CSO Situation Room makes case for Akwa Ibom traders seeking a review of COVID-19 market-policy, to protect their livelihoods.

Akwa Ibom State Report:

The government of Akwa Ibom State, while relaxing the lockdown in the state a month ago, announced that the main reason for easing the lockdown was to ameliorate the increasing hardship on most people and protect their livelihoods. For this reason, Civil Society Groups in the State, under the auspices of the CSO Situation Room are calling on the government to pay heed to the increased hardship occasioned by the new trading policy, which states that markets are to be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays but, from 10am – 4pm. The new time frame has particularly affected traders on the bottom rung of the food supply chain, who usually purchase and collect food products from farmers very early in the day, and convey the food to the markets to make wholesale supplies to retailers and end-users. This was the system in place, prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The wholesale traders always ensured they took delivery of the raw food from the farmers as early as 6.30am, before the farmers set out to their farms. Upon taking delivery of the goods, the traders will transport them to the markets to sell to customers, most of whom are retailers, who then retail these products at different market places and shops. Hence, the early timing, was very important to the farmers, as well as the wholesalers, retailers and end-users in the food supply chain. But, with the new policy which sets the market opening-time at 10am, these wholesale traders still go ahead to take products from farmers early, but they now have to take the products to the major roads leading to the markets and begin to sell at the crowded roadside, where it is much more difficult to maintain social distancing. By 10am when the markets open, they move their unsold wares into the markets to continue sales.

However, this poses a dilemma for them. On one hand, they are made to pay a N500 levy for selling at the market, every market day. When they have to sell at the roadside in the early hours of the morning because of the new policy, they are forced to pay another N500 levy for trading at the roadside, thus making it a total daily fine of N1,000.On the other hand, if upon taking delivery of the products from the farmers, they decide not to take the products immediately to the roadside to sell, and rather wait till 10am for the markets to open, it will attract extra transportation costs and in some cases, food loss, owing to the deplorable transport infrastructure, poor storage and the delay. Either way, they stand to incur more costs which will leave them with no choice but to inflate the prices of the food products, hence, their plea to the government to, as a matter of urgency, review the policy and readjust the timing for market operations to commence by 7am. Already, the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered economic activities and caused an inflation of prices of goods and services within Nigeria. Annual inflation in Nigeria rose for the eighth straight month in April, 2020, according to data from the National Bureau of statistics. Inflation climbed to 12.34% in April, the highest in two years. Food had the highest price hike, as it rose at a much faster pace to 15.03% in April, compared with 14.98% in March. The measures taken to curb the pandemic should not be allowed to escalate the inflation any further. The dilemma of having to choose between an additional market levy and an increase in transportation costs, has placed a strain on the businesses of these food traders, against the backdrop of the inflation that will occur if the market resumption time is not reversed to 7am soon.

COVID-19 kills; so can a loss of livelihood. The CSO Situation Room understands the need for the time restrictions. But while these restrictions may be deemed necessary to control the level of physical contact that members of the public have with each other, in order to curb the spread of the virus, the mode of implementation of the restriction could be varied from the 10am – 4pm duration which is the new policy currently in place, to the proposed 7am – 1pm or thereafter, depending on what is most suitable for the State and the food system in place.

The CSO Situation Room therefore calls on the Akwa Ibom State Government to foster collaboration with the traders and seek their participation in the enactment of policies affecting them, in order to make people-friendly policies that take into cognisance the peculiarities of the system in place. The government needs to work with available data on ground in the State and act rationally to ensure that the critical stakeholders in the food supply chain are able to play their role as essential service providers, to meet the food demands of the populace in these challenging times.