A multi-phase assessment of the effects of COVID-19 on food systems and rural livelihoods in Nigeria

Written by: Adebayo B. Aromolaran, Milu Muyanga, Fadlullah O. Issa and Oladele Oladeji

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, there have been serious concerns about the impact of the pandemic on agri-food systems, given that most of the population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. These concerns are compounded by the fragile state of the country’s health and food systems. This blog summarises the findings of APRA’s A Multi-Phase Assessment of the Effects of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Nigeria, which studied the differential impacts of the pandemic on agricultural commercialisation, food and nutrition security, employment, poverty, and well-being in rural households. The assessment was designed to help gain timely insights into how the COVID-19 crisis was unfolding in various parts of Nigeria and how rural people and food and livelihood systems were responding.

Compliance with COVID-19 guidelines and support to households

To control the spread of COVID-19, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), released COVID-19 prevention guidelines. These included various human and vehicular movements control strategies, social distancing, sanitary measures and wearing of masks. The study found a low rate of compliance with government guidelines and regulations for prevention of spread, due to skepticism about the genuineness of government claims about COVID-19, the inconvenience of adhering to the regulations, and inadequate enforcement of regulations by law enforcement agencies. Government and religious organisations were the main source of support during the peak of the pandemic but this support faded out very quickly as restrictions on movement were relaxed.

Impact on agricultural production

In most parts of Nigeria, hired farm labour (mostly casual) is provided by migrants across states borders. Thus, the COVID-19 related restrictions in movement severely affected the supply of hired labour for farming operations, especially during the planting season. Most households also experienced increased cost of tillage services and land rentals. A sizeable proportion of households reported having experienced a decrease in the availability of farm inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, and veterinary drugs. This likely led to a reduction in farm employment and income.

Impact on employment and income

Household participation in off-farm work and non-farm businesses was lower during 2020 compared with the pre-COVID-19 period due to restrictions on movement. In addition, households experienced a decrease in their ability to sell produce at the farm gate and local markets, partly due to high transportation costs and restrictions in movement. Also, the number of traders visiting local communities to purchase farm produce also fell substantially. All these impacts amounted to a severe reduction in income flowing into farm households. This, coupled with higher costs of living, indicates a decline in household welfare.

Impact on food consumption and nutrition

Households experienced a decrease in food availability, especially with respect to white roots, tubers and plantains, and grains, during the first 11 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Furthermore, dietary diversity declined, as most households were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food. A substantial proportion of household members interviewed ate only a few kinds of food. Lack of access to markets, reduction in farm and post-harvest activities, and food supply chain distortion due to severe restrictions in movement were the main reasons for the negative effects of COVID-19 on food consumption and nutrition among rural farm households.


Compared with the pre-COVID-19 period, rural farm households in Nigeria experienced various challenges which included higher costs of tillage services, land rentals and casual labour, increased prices of purchased farm inputs and food items, reduced household income, a consequent decline in household food consumption and dietary diversity, and negative effects on children’s education. These observed effects of the pandemic were due to government lockdowns and movement restrictions rather than COVID-19 infections.

The government needs to actively support the recovery of farm and off-farm businesses in the informal sector that have suffered due to COVID-19 restrictions. This will result in the reabsorption of workers into the labour force. It is also important for the federal and state governments to address the issue of rising costs of food that resulted from declining crop and livestock yields, which indirectly arose from reduced access to and rising costs of farm inputs and hired labour. Finally, federal, state and local governments need to re-evaluate their commitment to social protection schemes to better provide livelihood support to targeted vulnerable groups such as unemployed youths and female-headed households.

To hear more about APRA’s research findings on COVID-19, join the e-Dialogue on February 9th, 2022. Learn more and register, here.

Read about previous APRA research on COVID-19 in Nigeria in the following blogs: