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1.1     Background of the Study.

The state of health of a farmer and their agricultural productivity can be said to have a complex interrelationship. Increased productivity results to food sufficiency which the ever growing world population depends for sustainability. To adequately sustain the population in avoidance of food insecurity, agricultural productivity must be maintained optimally through efficient use of factors of production. Basically, of the four factors of production, labour remains the most essential factor that manipulate farm inputs to produce efficient outputs. In Nigeria, the indispensability of labour emanates from the fact that its agricultural system is labour intensive oriented.Essentially, the economics of rice production from the last two decades significantly impacted the national development of the Nigeria State. This impactful popularity of rice was derived from the rising level of productivity, level of income and the relative convenience with which it was produced, processed and persevered (Onwuchekwo, 1988 cited in Ekpe&Alimba, 2013). As one of the major stable food crops in Nigeria favoured by the ecological nature of the environment, rice provide basic nutritional materials, remain a major employer of labour and source of income (WARDA, 2004). Also, as the world leading food crop, rice provides industrial raw material for the manufacturing of macrony, spaghetti, flour as well as in commercial production of beer and some other beverages in brewing industries. Nevertheless, the efficiency of rice production depends on labour effectiveness. However, considering the prime importance of labour in relation to agricultural productivity, health plays a vital role in either accelerating the level of agricultural produce or retarding the production.

Health according to World Health Organization is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being of a person. The importance of health as a form of human capital cannot be over emphasized. Ajani and Ugwu (2008) states that good health and productive agriculture are important in the economy of any nation especially in the fight against poverty. Health enhances work effectiveness and the productivity of an individual through increase in physical and mental capacities. In other words, health affects agricultural systems by affecting the health of the producers. It is worthy of note that healthier workers are physically and mentally more energetic and robust. They are more productive and less likely to be absent from farm work whereas poor health may result in loss of work days or decrease worker capacity, decrease innovative ability and ability to explore diverse farming practices (Awoyemi and Soruunmi, 2009). In furtherance to the implication of poor health, Greenway (2004) pointed out that poor health increases present and future food insecurity through its impact on the household’s ability to produce food because of labour shortages and loss of knowledge about farming method; the household’s ability to buy food because of impoverishment due to loss of productive family members; the community’s ability to produce and buy food as the epidemic reaches every home and neighbors and become too burdened to help each other with food, loans or hands in the field; and the country’s ability to import food as ill-health reduces Gross Domestic Product Per Capita by an estimated 1% annually in Africa (Greenway, 2004).Likewise, as put by Asenso et al (2011), poor health resulting from disease affect physical strength and work days/hours available for farm work. Since agricultural productivity is dependent on physical strength and stamina, and therefore good health, it is more probable that health shocks directly affect worker productivity. Equally, labour-diseases involving high medical expenditures tend to deprive farming households of resources to invest in experimentations on improved practice and adoption of new technology. Poor health may reducefarmers’ ability to innovate, experiment, and operationalize changes in agricultural systems. Worst still, serious health issue of farmers resulting in catastrophic expenditures may also result in depletion of productive assets such as sale of draught animals and sale of cultivable land; and the consequence of these actions may include reduction of farm size as a result of reduction in labour strength; cultivation of less intensive crops, and reduction in farm inputs resulting in poor livelihood.

However, in Nigeria, a number of preventable diseases have affected health capital and guinea worm disease remains one of the greatest impediments to productivity in rural areas. Recent studies have indicated that guinea worm disease contributed significantly to the lossof working days, output, inefficiency and general decline in productivity (Ugwu, 2006). This may be responsible for the present distance between the demand-supply structures of rice production. Thus, this indication is most detrimental prior to the fact that agriculture is the main occupation and source of livelihood to over 85% population of Nigerians and 95% of the rural dwellers (WHO, 2006).

In Abakaliki in EbonyiState for instance, agriculture continued to be one of the most important drivers of poverty reduction, the highest employer of labour and the bedrock of economic growth of the people. Majored in the production of yam, rice and other crops including other farming activities, the farmers in Abakalikiare small farm holders (Onugu, 2008). Meanwhile, Ebonyi state in general is one of the highest-producer of agricultural produces in Nigeria with rice retaining prominence and has been reportedly rated as the third in the series of the most infested states by Guinea Worm Education Programme (2004). Thus, based on the reported prevalence of Guinea Worm diseases and the place of Abakaliki in particular and Ebonyi State in general in rice production in Nigeria, the researcher is motivated to carry out a study to analyse the effects of guinea worm diseases on the productivity of rice farmers inAbakaliki,Ebonyi State.

1.2     Statement of the Problem

Disease outbreak over decades has been a sources of worry at all level of government and has been incriminated as the major cause of low production trend in agricultural production. However, one prominent of such occupational disease affecting farmers in Abakaliki is guinea worm disease (Okereke and Okereke, 2015).

In Nigeria, rice production has contributed significantly to the GDP between 1993 to 2003 where the production remains 3.8 million metric tons (FAO, 2004). This made Nigeria become a major rice producer in West Africa. Rice cultivation in Nigeria is obtained in the eastern and middle belts of the country (WARDA, 2004). However, this trend would have been sustained because of the favourable environmental factors to rice production, but not for some challenges which have drastically created a remarkable gap in the demand-supply chain of the produce (Imolehin and Wade, 2000). Prominent of these challenges of rice productivity according to FAO (2004) in Nigeria is labour ill-health and labour inefficiency resulting from diseases.

A necessary condition for the survival of any country overtime is its ability to organize theproduction of food in sufficient quantities and quality for its citizens. According to World Bank (2010), agriculture and rural development is considered as sin qua non of national development. Before now, agricultural produce such as rice was the highest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria and most demanded food crop for both human consumption and industrial use. And in recent times, the demand of rice is very high to produce the least needed nutrients and cash income for the people but indication has shown a great gap in its supply chain. To a great extent, one of the factors that have been a source of worry to the researcher as concern the low production of rice is disease outbreaks.

          Guinea worm diseases also known as Dracunculiasis is caused by a parasitic nematode known as Dracunculus medinensis. The disease is the most common parasitic infection in Abakaliki, Afikpo North and Ezza local government areas of EbonyiState and thus based on its prevalence in these locations, the state assumed the third position among states in Nigeria with reported cases of guinea worm (Guinea Worm Eradication Programme, 2004; Ojodu,2004; Ojoge,2004).

Dracunculiasis incapacitate the victim and cause severe economic setback. And based on the parasite life cycle, the period of the disease potency, transmission and epidemicity always coincide with the peak period of agricultural activities, thus cause ill-health which lead drastically to the reduction in farmers’ efficiency. Recent study carried out by Ugwu (2010) in Niger State showed that the estimated economic cost (both direct and opportunity cost) of a farmer becoming sick once to be N29,225.53. This gives a sad indication as many people in Abakaliki have taken agriculture as their business and main source of livelihood.

          However, in spite of the huge amount of resources have been budgeted to the agricultural sector in recent times to increase production supply chain as well as eradicating diseases among farmers; there are indications of low production of rice because it’s production level is less than the rising demand and as well, guinea worm disease still sustained it’s record as most prevalent of farmers occupational   disease in Abakaliki. Thus, this prompts the researcher to ask:

i.           What are the socioeconomic characteristics of rice farmers in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State?

ii.       What is the prevalence rate of guinea worm disease in the study area?

iii.      Does the socio-economic characteristic of rice farmers in Abakaliki affect the prevalence rate of guinea worm disease in the study area?

iv.      Could guinea worm disease affect the productivity of rice farmers in Abakaliki?

v.       What are the differences in income earned between farms operated by infected and non-infected household?