Corona and cowpea: What’s the connection?
We’ve talked in news articles about various effects of the pandemic on smallholder agriculture and our work*. Now our Nigerian team has looked at a different angle: the impact of Covid-19 on the use of certified seeds and grain production. They’ve also gone a step further and published a journal paper. You’ll find it at the top of our Publications page.
‘Covid and seeds’ sounds like a huge topic. In their paper, Isaiah Gabriel, Frank Olajuwon, and Blessing Michael wisely focus on a selected setting. They concentrate on cowpea and sorghum in one region of their country. “We worked closely with seed companies involved in the AVISA program”, explains Country Program Manager Isaiah Gabriel. “Altogether we looked at a random sample of 400 farmers, 100 local agro-dealers, and 100 consumers from five northern states.”
Most of the interviewed farmers said the pandemic had negatively affected their production. With incomes falling, as a result, they bought fewer certified seeds. Disrupted rural deliveries also made it harder for seed companies to get all their production to customers. “Sales at the companies we studied dropped by a quarter to a half compared to before the pandemic”, comments our Monitoring & Evaluation Officer Blessing Michael. “More than 80% of the farmers used home-saved seed. That’s better than nothing, of course, but it contributes to a further downward spiral in productivity and incomes.” The study shows a clear correlation between smallholders’ use of certified seeds and higher yields, and between farm-saved seeds and revenue decline.
Possible ways out of this problem would have included government support and/or farmer diversification into other activities. Both were seen in other countries. “Our study shows that here, few seed companies or farmers received Covid-19 financial assistance”, notes Frank Olajuwon. “We also found – possibly for that reason – that farmers didn’t diversify much.” As our local Agriservices Officer, Frank emphasizes that the establishment of more Farmers’ Hubs would help smallholders get better access to affordable inputs, even in generally difficult times. “Our study also includes a number of suggestions for other improvements to the situation”, he adds.