When the news of the coronavirus disease broke out early in the year, the global community probably expected that China, where the virus first broke out in the city of Wuhan the previous December, would quickly put the spread of the virus under control. Sadly, COVID-19 has become a global threat, causing death, pain, misery and fear across the continents.
The threat of this pandemic is not only on the health and wellbeing of human beings but many businesses and the global economy are in jeopardy. In order to contain the spread of the virus, people have been asked to self-isolate (those exposed to the virus threat); maintain social distancing (about 1m from the next person) and stay indoors (at home). To this end, several countries, including Nigeria, have declared a lock-down of activities in states and cities with cases of the virus infection, with the exception of essential activities such as the movement of people and goods that have to do with healthcare, security, food, emergency, etc. With the lock-down, many businesses have adopted the work-from-home model and there's a greater utilization of e-commerce. For the players in the Agri-business space, it has been quite challenging.
Highlighted below are some of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis in the Agri-business space and tips Agro-entrepreneurs can leverage to continue to stay in business.
Nigerian Agro-entrepreneurs and COVID-19
Players in the agribusiness sector in Nigeria are affected by this crisis. There are restrictions on movement which has affected transportation to their farms, mostly in the rural areas. The disruption to supply chain activities has hampered access to markets for their goods and services. The planting season has begun but production activities have been affected by the lack of access to inputs such as seeds, seedlings, chemicals, implements, land preparation services, labour etc. Livestock production has also been affected by the lack of access to stock, feed, medicines, veterinary services, materials and equipment, etc.
Processing and distribution activities have been affected by the movement restriction with workers finding it difficult to get to work and the management of the workers in small groups in order not to contravene the preventive measures. The toll on the operations and finances of agro-businesses can best be imagined.
The government has provided some palliatives such as:
- The classification of food supply as essential services and the issuing of public notices to this effect;
- Provision of letters and tags to agro-entrepreneurs to ensure their movements are not impeded by security agencies on the highways;
- The moratorium placed on loan repayments bearing in mind that sales will be affected at this time;
- The relaxation of VAT payments on food and medical products, etc.
In order to survive this situation, it is important that agro-entrepreneurs be well informed about COVID-19 in order to protect themselves, their families, workers, suppliers, customers, etc, from being infected and their businesses from being adversely affected at this time.
Tips for Agro-Entrepreneurs
1. Get authentic information on COVID-19
Agro-entrepreneurs should obtain information and updates on COVID-19 from reliable sources. In Nigeria, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is the most dependable source. They have a website and are present on social media. The more we know about this virus, the better our chances for personal survival and the survival and growth of our businesses.
2. Review business policies
Agro-entrepreneurs should review the health measures and housekeeping policies in their businesses in view of this pandemic. Procedures should be put in place to protect workers and production activities, such as, increased emphasis on hand-washing and the provision of washing points/sanitizers; provision of good quality personal protective equipment (PPE) such as full-covering clothing, nose masks, hand gloves, cleaning chemicals, etc, for the use of the workers.
3. Escalate biosecurity measures
Workers must be properly briefed on the COVID-19 crisis and the importance of adhering to the heightened regulations. Ensure they obtain authentic information (not rumors, falsehood and myths) and get their cooperation. Encourage them in the area of good nutrition, hygiene, ventilation of work-spaces, barns and pens and practice social distancing by working in small groups. Place restrictions on entry into the business premises by external persons and designate a particular area to attend to them.
4. Change work activities
It will be difficult for players in production to work remotely because crops and livestock require regular person-care. In addition, the materials and equipment necessary for their care has to be operated by humans. Fortunately, some agro-entrepreneurs have workers' residing within or close to their business premises and work can continue with precautionary measures in place. But where permissible, employees can make use of available and affordable technology to work from remote locations (e.g, meetings using video conferencing, instant messaging, phone calls, etc) in order to reduce contact and the risk of virus infection.
5. Embrace e-commerce
E-commerce for agro-entrepreneurs is now a reality. The agro-business that will survive this crisis and beyond must begin to consider the nexus of e-commerce to its continued success and sustainability. So, whether you are providing goods or services, an e-commerce platform should be an addition to your business model.
6. Business risk planning
A business risk is that threat to the ability of the company to achieve its goals as they originally set out to do. Every business is susceptible to risks. Instead of avoiding them, it is better to identify them and address them adequately in order to minimize their impact. Many agro-entrepreneurs could not have imagined the level of disruption that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to their business. This is therefore, a lesson that business owners must come up with a risk management strategy to manage their risks to avoid interruptions to smooth farm operations.
Agro-entrepreneurs are very important to the global community at this time for food security, especially, and for ensuring the continued functioning of the agriculture value chain. This must be top consideration as the world battles the COVID-19 crisis. Business owners must make it a priority to cooperate with the intervention agencies, taking precautions for self, families and workers. Also Agro-focused trade organizations and business groups can support the government to disseminate authentic situation reports and capacity building tips to their members at this time, to help them in their businesses.