The impact of COVID-19 on African farming (3)

Samuel J. Samuel

The results showed that labor migration is an essential component that facilitates regional integration and economic development in Africa. Research on the impacts of immigration on the economy of developing countries, carried out by the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), reveal that migrant workers provide extra workforce, especially in areas where native workers do not readily consider it viable. The studies also show that the inputs of these migrant workers contribute to the development of the formal sector of the economy, resulting in a positive effect on public finances.

In Nigeria, the majority of people who fall into the aforementioned sector of the economy are found in various groups and segments in the agricultural sector of the economy. Agriculture employment in Nigeria was 36.38% as of 2019. (Source: ILO estimate). The agricultural sector of Nigeria's economy recorded the highest growth in the first quarter of 2019 in the main sectors in five (5) quarters. According to data released by the National Statistics Department, the agricultural sector grew by 3.17% in real terms, up from 2.46% in the previous quarter. (May 21, 2019)


Mainly, just as agriculture in Nigeria is composed of four sub-activities: agricultural production, livestock, forestry and fishing, in the same way, the categories of people who dominate this sector fall into four categories, namely: the elderly (mainly the uneducated), young adults (with / without education) and women (mainly the uneducated) in most parts of the country, while the fourth group of people are migrant workers from neighboring countries. Nigeria shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east and the Republic of Niger in the north. Agriculture is the main source of food and income for Africans, representing 60% of all jobs on the continent. In Nigeria, the majority of migrant farmers make up more than 50 to 60% of the workers who produce farmers in southern Nigeria. This made the agricultural sector heavily dependent on the workforce of the four groups of people mentioned above.

Migrants are cheap suppliers of the workforce to farmers who want to expand their farm beyond one hectare, which can be managed properly by a single farmer. However, the impact of COVID-19, which restricts movement, is unfortunately occurring between seasons when agriculture is gradually starting to increase. Consequently, this will greatly affect these groups of workers. These farmers make up more than 64% of the population and depend exclusively on agriculture for their livelihoods. Any impact on the labor supply on them would have a disastrous effect. Usually, migrant workers are paid after the season with the harvest stock. Some are paid for barter, while others work on their motorcycle and return to their villages where they start their business. The majority of Nigerian labor forces (70 to 80 percent) are peasants who work as subsistent farmers. Therefore, the government must make an appropriate arrangement to ensure adequate mechanization and support for them.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, its negative effects continue to be felt in everyone's lives, especially in the agricultural sector and in migrant farmers in particular. This proves that many migrant workers are dependent on the economy, especially in the agricultural sector. The findings also showed that some companies in Europe, particularly agriculture, are currently in a panic of further economic losses due to travel restrictions, especially in the selected category of migrants entering the continent. For example, Germany's agricultural sector depends to a large extent on migrant workers from neighboring countries like Bulgaria, Poland or Romania. Germany also fears that the 2020 harvest is threatened due to border closures and health-related uncertainties.


Migrant workers are mainly the biggest losers during economic disasters (COVID-19) because of their short-term contracts. Therefore, as the global economy gradually begins to plunge into recession as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, more migrant farmers are being prevented from going to the farm. African migrants residing in countries like Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and Chad will feel the impact of the restriction more than other groups of people on the economy across West Africa. In the USA, in 2018, more than 22 million people were employed in the field related to agriculture, representing 11% of the country's employment. This shows the importance of this sector, not only in Africa, but also at a global level. In addition, growing demand in sectors such as agriculture, mining and construction remains an important driver of economic migration in Africa. Consequently, the migration of low-skilled and semi-skilled workers has become a prominent feature of modern intra-African economic activity.

In West Africa, robust demand for labor in agriculture and construction has been the main driver of migration from neighboring countries to Nigeria. However, contemporary economic migration in Africa predominantly involves low-skilled migrants and is largely concentrated in the agricultural sector. Systemic growth in a labor-intensive sector, such as agriculture, which has a strong absorption capacity for low-skilled migrants and with a limited level of education, can create substantial employment opportunities for people. The ECOWAS protocol related to the free movement of people, residence and establishment facilitated the mobility of migrants in the region's labor markets. (Source: UNCTAD, based at the University of Sussex, 2018 and World Bank, 2013).


In addition, the results revealed that about 423 million people live in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). As people migrate from one country to another, looking for job opportunities, migrant workers represent the largest portion of the intra-regional movement. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 164 million people are migrant workers, which means an increase of 9% since 2013, when they totaled 150 million. According to the 2nd edition of the ILO's Global Estimates on International Migrant Workers (2013-2017), the majority of migrant workers account for 96 million men, while 68 million are women. Of the 164 million migrant workers worldwide, approximately 111.2 million, representing 67.9%, live in high-income countries, while 30.5 million, who make up 18.6%, are found in middle-income countries high. The report also showed that 16.6 million migrants, representing 10.1%, live in low-income countries, while 5.6 million, representing 3.4%, live in low-income countries. (Source: ILO)

In addition, research work has also shown that most Africans do not emigrate from the continent, but largely migrate to neighboring countries. For example, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), between 2015 and 2017, the number of international African migrants living in the region jumped from 16 million to about 19 million. (UN, DESA, 2017).

In today's world, the world is more connected than ever. Information, goods and money flow more quickly across national borders, a development known as globalization. It is obvious that many developing countries need migrant workers as a result of the scarcity of labor-intensive labor, such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction. Although migration comes with its multifaceted challenges, it is up to policymakers around the world to formulate a comprehensive and integrated policy that recognizes and promotes the potential that exists in these groups of workers. "We cannot ignore the real political difficulties imposed by migration, but we must also not lose sight of its immense potential to benefit migrants, the countries from which they leave and the countries to which they migrate." – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), based in Addis Ababa, has proposed that job creation policies on the continent focus on labor-intensive sectors, such as agriculture. Many developing countries are of the opinion that a flexible migration process would be a quick way to increase their gains from globalization. However, the challenge is to develop policies that are acceptable to both developed and developing countries and that promote rapid global economic growth.


Based on the above, the Nigerian government should make migrant workers, especially those in the agricultural sector, part of its national and sub-regional economic development strategy. Obviously, this would involve a viable economic policy to strengthen the labor market establishments that govern intra-regional migration and the labor movement. Our policy makers at all levels of government must come to the occasion by formulating inclusive strategies that identify the importance of migrant farmers for the growth and development of the economy, while the necessary support must be given to them to promote productivity and promote competitiveness throughout the sector.


stakeholders agree that smallholder farmers who make up and contribute more to 70% of Nigeria's agricultural community and produce a greater percentage of Nigeria's food needs are plagued by the demon of poverty, on the one hand, and on the other hand, by the lack of mechanization that helps to reduce their suffering and increase profitability. Nigeria's mechanization is known to be one of the least important in the world. Government and state actors should seek to coordinate and collaborate better, taking advantage of the local technological capacity that will accelerate the expansion of mechanization; technology can help to aggregate existing capacity and use it to increase farmers' access. undoubtedly, the technology will reduce the risk associated with financing mechanization, bringing together investors for the sector. When thinking about what to reduce the pains that will be inflicted by the covid-19, we must prioritize the need to use technology to close the gap hitherto created by the deficit in the supply of migrant workers. A typical example is the Tractor-On-The-Go application (TOG tractors). This platform can connect farmers to agricultural equipment just using their phones, while equipment owners can also display their equipment on the platform by which they can provide their services to farmers, regardless of how remotely connected.

  • Samuel is a principal partner of Sensale Research Group

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