Nigeria’s agribusiness sector in the face of the coronavirus

The health crisis linked to the covid-19 pandemic has thrown many economies into a slump from which they are struggling to recover. Wherever containment and social distancing measures have been put in place, companies have had to adapt to the new sales conditions in an attempt to survive. However, not all companies have been affected in the same way.

In Nigeria, the fear of the virus, then the announcement of a curfew, pushed citizens to stay at home, to consume less and/or differently on the one hand, and not to go to work for a while on the other. For small and medium-sized companies in the agri-food sector, the challenge was twofold. They had to keep selling, and to do so, they had to ensure safe working conditions for their employees.

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We gathered the testimonies of three entrepreneurs present on the agribusiness market in Nigeria, who agreed to present their struggle, their needs and their solutions: Maimouna Zeine, founder of La Crémière du Sahel, Souleymane Madé, head of Made’s Group, an industrial unit specialized in the production and marketing of chips, infant flour and peanuts, and Bachir Rockya Lahilaba, founder of Sahel Délices.

An immediate impact on the production capacity

The work stoppage and the closure of the borders have, in the very short term, greatly disrupted the supply of raw materials to the agri-food sector. Sahel Délices, a company based in Niamey that specializes in the production of local plant-based juices, found itself cut off from its suppliers from the start of the crisis. Most of the raw materials are harvested by groups of women in the villages surrounding the capital, who take advantage of market days to come to the city to sell their products. The lockdown and travel ban in Nigeria has stopped bus traffic between rural areas and Niamey. The available plants became scarcer, and prices mechanically increased. Production costs therefore also increased, which was ultimately reflected in selling prices, even though consumers on average lost purchasing power with the Covid-19 crisis.

The supply problems also affected other essential inputs for production, such as packaging. Sahel Délices used to source the bottles in which its juices were sold from Nigeria, but the transport chain was cut off when the borders were closed. To make up for the lack of bottles, the company turned to local producers, but this solution did not prove to be optimal because the bottles produced in Nigeria did not correspond as well to the expectations of the clientele, which reduced its consumption.

How to sell in the era of containment?

The entire agribusiness sector was not affected in the same way or to the same extent. The overall impact of the containment on sales was nevertheless rather negative.

The curfew measures put in place have resulted in lower sales. Many products are sold in the city, in grocery stores, and as a result, the flow of customers has decreased. To cope with the drop in sales, stores have sometimes simply refused to take replenishments. For La Crémière du Sahel, a cheese shop in the heart of Niamey, deliveries went from three times a week to once a week. In April, work was even stopped completely. Activities could not resume until May.

The curfew, set at 7pm, also limited the consumption time. At 6pm, citizens stayed at home until 6am. Consumers therefore refocused their purchases on basic necessities. For a company like Sahel Délices, which specializes in juices and therefore makes a large part of its profits during periods of great heat and Ramadan, the changes in consumption habits have had a strong impact.

Some companies have responded by offering home delivery services for their products, like Sahel Délices. In practice, this form of adaptation was not immediately operational: delivery personnel had to be trained in barrier gestures, wearing masks and gloves, since customers refused deliveries if they were not made in strict compliance with the new health standards.

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