By Kufre Etuk
Thousands of farmers across Nigeria are struggling under rising rates of inflation, caused by the intervention of middlemen who believe in making profits at the expense of the poor. This results in artificial scarcity of goods and farm produce which in turn increases demand for those items. These middlemen, wrapped under the guise of associations and unions, do not only determine market prices for every good display for sale but also stratify people within their unions and decide which group should bring their goods for sale in every market day. This is done to lay full grip on prices of goods as well as prevent those not registered with them from selling in the market.
At a popular Akpan Andem market in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, Mrs. Udeme Monday who trades on okro accused leadership of Okro association of not allowing members to bring okro into the market for sale.
“It is only the leaders of the association that bring okro into this market and sell to us in bags. They sell a bag that should cost about 3,000 naira ($6) to us at the rate of 15000 naira ($30)per bag. We struggle to meet up and when we cannot meet up, they will make trouble with us.”
Mrs. Udeme narrated how she went to Ibiono Ibom local government area, a province in Akwa Ibom State to buy a bag of okro but on arrival at the market, the union members seized her begs and beat her up. Udeme beckoned on relevant authorities to come to the aid of petty traders like her to save them from frequent embarrassments by leadership of unions and associations.
Mr. Aniebiet Antia, a commercial farmer in the state, collaborated the story. Antia, a CEO of Antai’s Farm argued that once he harvests his farm produce-cucumber and tomatoes , he cannot take it to the market directly as he will be blocked by the leadership of cucumber or tomatoes association from selling to consumers.
“Anytime I make harvest I have off takers who come to buy from the farm and sell directly to consumers at whatever prices the unions agree.
“These off takers must be members of the unions and associations otherwise they will not be allowed to go into the market with any thing they want to sell.”
The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, in Nigeria, says the consumer price index, (CPI) which measures inflation (rate of change in the increase in prices) increased by 17.75 per cent (year-on-year) in June 2021. In July this year, NBS said States with the highest Year-on-Year food inflation were Kogi (28.51 percent), Enugu (24.57 percent) and Lagos (24.04 percent), while Akwa Ibom (17.85 percent), Bauchi (17.74 percent) and Abuja (16.67 per cent) recorded the slowest rise in year on year inflation.
It was in view of these existing unions , associations and their influence in hiking prices of goods in the market , that El-kanise and partners, made up of young techies in South-South Nigeria, developed Farm X mobile application.
Ukeme Anwan, Research and Development Officer in El-kanis said FarmX mobile application is targeted at connecting farmers with buyers, and buyers with producers without the intervention of the unions. “The application also connects farmers with experts in case they need urgent experts advice in their farm.
“The aim is to break the monopoly of market associations and unions in fixing prices of goods, especially food stuffs.
“With FarmX, producers and consumers deals directly with one another without any intermediary. At this point prices of whatever the consumer are not determined based on mutual agreement not on predetermined prices by various market unions and associations”.
He said FarmX has enabled transactions between independent supply- and demand-side participants. FarmX mobile Apps (Available free on Googlestore for urban users to download) and El-kanis Vernacular Interactive Voice Response Platform (Available on mobile networks for rural users to call) works as LinkedIn for food supply chain in Nigeria, allowing farmers to post their request and agro-service providers to post theirs services, who are then matched via the platform for mutual benefits.
“ This has brought mutual values and gains to the food supply chain and meaningfully reducing food losses and contributing to systems change and advancement of overall food systems.”
Before any producer or buyer uses FarmX Application, all that the user should do is to download the app, which will automatically give access to whatever assistance such a person wants.
Apart from providing a convergence for farmers and buyers, findings showed that apart from FarmX application, there is a store where goods are bought and preserved for distribution purposes. This, Anwan noted, is to provide uninterrupted services to the masses. “With our delivery bikes, customers who demand for a particular product and cannot get it from the wholesalers , we seek to intervene by providing those items for customers.”
A trader on beans who uses FarmX Application, Mrs. Ekama Ukpe said she has made good sales through the application. She averred that with FarmX, she has jumped the hurdles of coming under association’s control and paying for tickets before using her allotted market space.
Visiting Uyo main market in South South Nigeria, the Market Management Committee saddled with the responsibility of overseeing daily running of the market, diffused the allegation of price fixing by unions and associations. A committee member Mr. Idorenyin James, assigned to interact with this reporter said no leadership of market association or union is allowed to fix prices of goods but admitted that they are allowed to collect dues from their respective union members.
“The essence of the associations and unions is to cater for the welfare of members and we make sure that joining the market association or union is voluntary.”
He attributed hike in prices of food items to what he termed as settlement of security personnel along the road by traders who go far distances to buy food items in large quantity for sale.
“These security personnel along the road always demand for money forcefully from these traders for nothing. Once the traders come back they try to factor in money spent to settle security personnel into prices of food items in order to recover and also make profit.”
The Special Assistant to Akwa Ibom State Governor on trade and market matters Mr. Idoreyin Raphael, explained that government’s duty is to ensure that traders are not forced to join any association or union. He argued that market prices are not fixed by different leadership of the union. But the Special Assistant to Governor seemed to contradict himself.
It can be recalled in May 20, 2021, Akwa Ibom State Government began the direct sales of garri at the Ministry of Agriculture grounds, Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat Uyo, to civil servants as well as other members of the public. A day before the exercise, in an interactive meeting with market leaders, traders and government officials over the hike in prices of food stuffs in the State held in Governor’s Office annex, Wellington Bassey way in Uyo, the market leaders were charged against creating artificial food scarcity through any possible means.
The former Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Gloria Edet, at the event, said , “the State government has been touched by the plight of the populace brought about by the slight increment in the price of garri and other food commodities and has swung into action to ameliorate the unsavoury situation.
“We urge market leaders not to prevent traders and farmers from bringing their items to sell in the markets at will, especially garri as one of the most commonly-used commodity/ staple foods in the State.”
However, the decision of Mr. Raphael to turn around in defence of market union leadership may underscore the belief that various market unions and associations may be remitting part of their interest to some government officials to sabotage any effort to checkmate their activities.
In spite this, FarmX Application has made inroads especially for urban dwellers. Mr.Anwan revealed that about two hundred thousand people have registered with them and are using FarmX Application for transaction.
But Mrs. Ukpe observed, “one of the major problem I have is that anytime there is no public power supply I cannot charge my phone and within that period , I may loose customers who may have been trying to reach me to make orders.” This shows that using FarmX App is not without challenges. Lack of constant power supply is one factor limiting the smooth running of FarmX. Nigeria is still battling with the issue of spasmodic power supply which can affect the use of the Application if the device downloaded into is not charged.
The projected population of the state between 2007-2015 by Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Economic Development is 4,932,020. But the estimated users of FarmX App is pegged at about two hundred thousand. It shows the level of awareness by greater percentage of the population is low, as such the impact may not really be felt. This was admitted by Mr. Ukeme Anwan-Research and Development Officer, El-kanis group. The CEO of Antai’s farm also disclosed that he was not aware of FarmX App but agreed that he makes more sales from his online contacts. A case of limited access to Internet is another militating factor against the success of FarmX. Research shows that 70℅ of Nigeria’s population reside in the rural areas. These people are faced daily with no basic amenities from government and live on less then a dollar per day. Because they may not see need for Internet services, most network operators do not bother much to extend their service reach to such areas. This is another limitation affect the use of FarmX.