Godfrey Karema is a commercial farmer based in Nyanza District. When coronavirus broke out in mid-March, he was uncertain about how his business would be affected.
A few days later, when all unnecessary movements were banned and the public was obliged to stay at home, he was worried that the market for his produce, transport and all activities would be halted.
Today, one month later, Karema is buoyant, with his farming business thriving as coronavirus continues to take toll other business activities, locally and globally.
“I was worried and very uncertain over my investment, especially about the market and transport of the produce to the market. Today, I commend government's support towards agriculture. My business is doing well,” he said.
The United Nations projects that transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmers’ access to markets, undermining their productive capacities and hindering them from selling their produce.
Developing countries are particularly at risk as COVID-19 can lead to a reduction in the labour force, and affect incomes and livelihoods as well as labour intensive forms of production (agriculture, fisheries/aquaculture).
Farmers were given green light to transport their produce in order to overcome the challenges of access to markets, which was one of their pressing concerns even before the COVID-19 lockdown.
Extension services still available
Vincent Havugimana heads a cooperative for Irish potato farmers in Gicumbi District.
Like Karema, he was worried about how to move produce from farms to markets in urban centres in the midst of the lockdown.
He was also concerned that routine extension services given to farmers by the Government such as fertilizers, seeds and veterinary services would be halted.
Havugimana and fellow farmers in Gicumbi are happy that despite the lockdown, farming activities have continued to operate.
“We still get the support that we need in terms of production, market and transport,” he explains.
According to an official from the Ministry of Agriculture: “Routine support and services will continue to be delivered and all other necessary needs available."
However, farmers are encouraged to observe precautionary measures against the COVID-19 spread by maintaining the required distance between workers, regularly washing hands and wearing face masks while working on farms.
While farmers are buoyed by their sustained business activities, there is noticeable shift in consumer behaviour.
The purchasing power, especially in urban centres, has reduced as many have found themselves without work due to the lockdown.
Paul Rusingizandekwe has been a tomato farmer in Nyagatare District for 10 years.
He noted that although the fluctuation in food prices has been contained thanks to strict Government policies, the public’s purchasing ability has reduced.
“I can notice that my clients are really struggling. I no longer get big orders like I used to. I hope this will end as soon as the pandemic eases,” he said.
In addition, with the hotels and restaurants among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, the market for farmers’ produce has shrunk significantly.
Meanwhile, the Government has deployed 113 free farming equipment across the country to speed up land preparations and planting.
It was part of the efforts to sustain food production during and after COVID-19.