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Abuja women farmers at the mercy of changing climate

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AGNES Matthias has been idle at home for months, waiting for the rains to fall so she could begin work on her farm.

She wakes each day hoping the rain will fall.

It is already May 15 and Mathias has waited for two months after clearing some farmlands she rented. Yet, no rain.

Farming is the only occupation by which she fends for herself and her children since she lost her husband 13 years ago. So, she continues to pray for the rains to come.

The 55-year-old woman is one of the thousands of farmers in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, who lose sleep over late and erratic rainfalls. In Abuja, most peasant farmers remain idle after harvesting crops in December till late June the following year when the rain begins to fall.

While idling at home and incurring costs of meeting the family’s daily needs, the farmers consume most or all of the previous year’s yields, which they could have sold to meet other needs.

The poor yield due to infrequent rainfall affect all farmers, but the effect is more telling on women farmers, especially those who spoke with The ICIR. They are widows age between 45 and 55 years.

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Some of them lost their husbands over ten years ago and have remained breadwinners for their families. They have young children who survive only on what their mothers bring from the farm.

Elizabeth Solomon is a smallholder woman farmer in Abaji Area Council. Like Mathias, she has remained at home since January because of the late rainfall.

Solomon too has no other business than farming. She feeds and sponsors her children in school with the proceeds of her farms.

However, she says farming has been difficult for her and other women farmers in the area council because of delayed and inconsistent rainfall.

Small-scale women farmers struggle to survive for the same reason in Jiwa, one of the satellite communities in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).

The community is the hometown of AMAC Chairman, Mr Abullahi Candido, who has spent five years in office.

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Women farmers scoop water from a small river in the community to wet their vegetable farms. But the river is too small; both animals and humans struggle to have their share.

Comfort Sunday is the Abuja Coordinator for Small Scale Women Farmers of Nigeria (SWOFON). She lives in Jiwa, where she manages her crop and fish farms and a retail food store.

Mrs Sunday feeding her fish at Jiwa
Mrs Sunday feeding her fish at Jiwa

Since she lost her husband years ago, she has been the only one fending for her children. But she no longer plants some of the crops she used to grow, like cassava and yam, because of the infertility of the soil and other effects of climate change.

The situation is not different in Kuje Area Council, where Victoria Okpanachi, another smallholder farmer, lives and farms.

In Chikuku, her community in Kuje, small-scale holder farmers wait till the rain falls before they can farm. Inconsistency in rainfalls means they end the farming year with poor harvest and incur debts.

Okpanachi plants rice, cassava, maize and yam. But she had not planted anything as at early June because of the absence of rain.

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“I have not put anything in the soil this year. We are in May, and there is no rain yet. It is very shocking to me because this year, the weather is very different. The lateness of rain to fall is discouraging me from farming,” she says.

Climate change affects crop farmers; it also threatens poultry and livestock businesses.

Climate change kills birds through excessive heat and cold that characterize the dry and wet seasons.

Drought and increased temperature bring double tragedies to farmers who do both crop and poultry farming. It kills poultry birds which they rear for sale to meet family needs and denies them bountiful harvests from their farms.

The situation is worse for women farmers who specialize in poultry farming. They lose both birds and crops, causing their family to dip further into poverty.

Maimunat Sule, a poultry farmer at Kwali Area Council, says extreme hot and cold weather kills birds.

Maimunat Sule helps her family with a grinding machine, in addition to her poultry farm which has not been doing well in recent time
Maimunat Sule helps her family with a grinding machine, in addition to her poultry farm which has not been doing well in recent time

There are empty poultry cages behind her house. According to her, all the birds in them died from heat in March.

Sule has since resorted to grinding pepper and grains for survival. She said the effort to access a loan to revive her poultry was unsuccessful.

Margeret Sule, another poultry farmer in Kwali, also complains about the effects of climate change on her poultry.

She has lost many of her birds to the rising heat and excessive cold in the past years.

An indigene of Kogi State, Sule keeps up to 3,500 birds on her farm but says about a half of them could die if she does not spend much money on drugs and other measures that will keep them from the effects of climate change.

However, the late rainfall that comes with climate change is a blessing for Zainab Rabiu, another woman farmer and widow at Kofina community, near Zuba in Gwagwalada Area Council.

Zainab's watermelon farm at Kofina, near Zuba.
Zainab’s watermelon farm at Kofina, near Zuba.

Rabiu grows watermelon with her son and some residents of the community. Watermelon grows well between May and July if there is low rainfall, she says.

With the support of Mustapha, one of her children, she hopes to make a good harvest from her watermelon farm located around the permanent site of the FCT College of Education, Zuba, this year.

Mustapha says he works with her mother because of her passion for farming.

Some farmers in the community contribute money to cultivate large hectares of watermelon farms. Rabiu and her son are among the farmers. The farmers, mainly women, share their yields according to what they invested.

Small-scale women farmers face difficulty to access land for farming

Abuja occupies about 8,000 square kilometres, bordering Kogi, Niger, Kaduna and Nasarawa states. Report says the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) earmarks an estimated 274,000 hectares of the city’s land for farming purposes. But access to land has been a challenge for smallholder farmers in the FCT.

Mathias (the woman farmer in Abaji) fears she may not meet the expectations of the owner of the land she uses to farm this year. Smallholder farmers pay between N30,000 and N100,000 to rent land in Abaji, where she has lived and farmed for decades.

But some landowners prefer that farmers share their yields with them at the end of each farming season. For farmers in this category, sharing formula is 40 per cent for landowners and 60 per cent for the farmers. Mathias belongs to the latter.

Sunday faces a similar condition. She says getting land for farming in Jiwa comes at a much cost for farmers, especially women. According to her, small-scale farmers could pay up to N50,000 before getting land to farm.

Okpanachi in Chikuku community, shares a similar opinion. She says the high cost of renting land for farming is a challenge farmers face in the area council.

“This year, I have spent over N53,000 to rent land in Chikuku to enable me to farm. I rent the land every year,” she explains

She notes that many women in her community could not farm because they could not access land.

How insecurity affects farmers in Abuja

But climate change is not the only challenge that these poor smallholder women farmers have to contend with. In fact, many of them observed that insecurity is, perhaps, their major worry. Kidnappers and cattle herders have chased many of them out of their farms in Abuja. Many residents interested in farming are discouraged because of growing insecurity in the city.

The city continues to witness increasing cases of insecurity herders attacks and kidnapping, just like neighbouring states.

The smallholder farmers blame a large part of the insecurity they face on their farms on herders. For most small-scale farmers, accepting whatever herders do to their farms as their fate is a better option to take.

Cows at Jiwa community
Cows at Jiwa community

According to them, the herders invade their farms and eat up any crop they see. No one dares confront them, except the person is ready for a fight that may claim the life of either party, the women allege.

Solomon in Abaji shares her experience with the reporter: “Cattle eat up crops, and farmers have no one to run to for complaints. We fear herders could gang up and attack us if we engage in a verbal war with them. We need special security on our farms for us to continue to farm.”

Also, at Jiwa, Sunday says herders invade farms with their cattle and consume crops.

Herders move their cattle within the community, on the farms and around the town.

“We farm; to harvest is a problem. Last year, I planted groundnuts; the cattle ate them up. Even though people in the neighbourhood talk to the herders, they would not listen,” Sunday says.

Attack on farmers goes beyond physical assault in Abuja. It includes rape and killings. A lady accompanied her mother to the farm in 2019 at Jiwa.

Herders allegedly swooped on her, raped her, and fled. Her parents reported the matter at the community’s police station. Nothing came out of the case, Sunday claims.

Candido, who hails from the community, refused to comment on the case when this reporter met him in his office to know the role he played in the matter. He directed the reporter to a male aide in his office.

“See that man over there. You are a journalist. Go and see him. He will attend to you,” the chairman said in a glaring attempt to decline the request.

Other aides ushered the reporter out of the office to a waiting lounge.

For nearly 30 minutes, the aide appointed by Candido refused to attend to the reporter, until the chairman left the premises.

Attacks on farmers are also widespread in Kuje. The area council has been the epicentre of abduction and kidnapping in Abuja.

In Chikuku, where Okpanachi lives, some residents prefer to buy food in the market to farming because of fear of attack by herders and kidnapping by gunmen.

For instance, scores of people have been reportedly kidnapped in Kuje Area Council in the past year, causing fears for farmers.

Smar Nnena Jaja on her farm
Smar Nnena Jaja on her farm

Similarly, Nnena Smart Jaja, a widow and retiree, had farmed at the quarters of one of the Federal Government institutions in Kwali Area Council. She has lived at the quarters for many years and she retired from the civil service early this year.

Following rising tension among residents in the area over the kidnapping and other insecurity issues in the area council, the estate management ordered residents not to plant crops that could prevent visibility.

Jaja says she will no longer plant certain crops such as millet, guinea corn, maize, cassava and that she can no longer stake her yams, which will decrease her yield.

Jaja further notes that it will be difficult for her to get land elsewhere, though there is much land in the estate that occupants can use for farming.

Pasepa, a community in Bwari Area Council, boasts of land very fertile for crop farming. But herders and bandits are threats to the farmers, especially smallholder women.

The community is a border town to Niger State – one of the states facing the worst banditry and kidnapping incidents in Nigeria.

Lack of access to power, good roads and the distance between the community and its neighbours worsen the fear among the residents.

Motorbike riders charge about N500 from Bwari town to the community and N400 from Kubwa, closest satellite town to the area council.

One of the smallholder women farmers in the community, Hauwa Muhammed, says women risk attacks while farming in Pasepa. She says there have been kidnappings in communities around the town.

The women farmers appealled to all tiers of government to improve the city’s security situation.

They also want the governments to stop open grazing by herders, which they claim allows cattle to eat up their crops.

Inputs such as fertilizer, chemicals, seedlings still a mirage for women farmers

Except for the SWOFON leader at Jiwa, none of the women farmers who spOKE with our reporter says she got any help from any tier of government in the country.

The others all claim to be purchasing everything they use on their farms by themselves.

According to the women, aides such as fertilizers, chemicals, seedlings, pumping machines, tractors and their coupled implements, loans, grants, land, and extension services never get them.

Agnes Mathias
Agnes Mathias

Mathias in Abaji captures her experience thus:

“By the time you deduct the cost of what we pay labourers who work for us, the chemicals and other inputs we buy, and what the landowners take from our yields at the end of the year, you discover that virtually nothing remains for us as our gain from the toil of a whole year.”

“I have no other means to fend for my family. The only way for women farmers like me to remain in the business is for the government to prioritize agriculture and provide needed support for small-scale women farmers,” she adds.

Hauwa Muhammed, a woman farmer in Pasepa says farmers face difficulty accessing fertilizers and other farm inputs, despite applying for it as a group.

Muhammed explains that SWOFON’s in her community made efforts to get some farm inputs from the government without a positive response.

Women have no access to grant

Except for Sunday, all the women who spoke to our reporter say they have not received a grant or loan from any tier of government to support their work.

Margaret Musa, who manages a poultry farm in Kwali, says all her attempts to secure a loan from the government ended in futility.

However, the women support one another through thrift and other contributions.

For instance, Mrs Jaja and (Meimunat) Musa are into a thrift that helps them support their families.

Jaja said before she became a SWOFON member, the thrift helped women in her neighbourhood empower themselves.

The thrift requires the women to contribute a certain amount within a short period, such as weekly or monthly. One of the members collects the contribution, and every member takes her turn till all the members get the money.

Depending on their financial ability, a member could contribute more than one or two shares, making that member collect contribution, the number of the shares she makes.

Lack of investment in irrigated farming by the government denies women farmers of dry season farming

In 2020, the rain did not start in Abuja until the middle of June. It ceased in July and did not fall throughout August, causing many crops to wither.

Little did the farmers know that the re-emergence of the rain in late August would not last as they rushed to plant. The last rainfall in the year fell in the first week of October, and most crops could not withstand the ensuing drought. And the farmers had to wait till the next rainy season to farm. Rain usually falls in Abuja till the end of October.

Women farmers in Abuja wish to do dry season farming but they do not have the means. Unlike Kano, Kebbi, and few other states where governments invested much in irrigated agriculture, most farmers in Abuja rely on rainfall.

There are also only a few rivers and dams in the nation’s capital, thus limiting the ability of farmers to go into dry season farming.

Data from the Kano State government show that both farmers and government lose in Abuja because of failure to promote irrigated farming.

Agriculture contributes more than 70 per cent of Gross State Product in Kano State, and the larger part of yields comes from dry season farming.

Hauwa Muhammed at her farm in Pasepa, Bwari, Abuja
Hauwa Muhammed at her farm in Pasepa, Bwari, Abuja

Similarly, Kebbi State, another state that promotes irrigated farming, is reaping much from its dry season farming. In 2010, the state launched its New Agricultural Transformation and Self Help Initiative (NATASHI) project, where over 15,000 farmers participated in dry season rice farming,” the state Ministry of Information and Culture said in its Digital Library.

Crop farming, livestock management and open grazing

As climate change becomes more challenging in the largely-savannah North, herders migrate more than ever southward.

Abuja, located at the nation’s centre, has a tropical climate, according to Climate-data.org. It enjoys more rainfalls and grasses than the core North. Hence, more herders choose to settle in and around the city, which parades better infrastructure and other basic amenities.

Open grazing has been a challenge in the country. The problem worsened under President Muhammadu Buhari government, attracting more ethnic profiling, national debates and conflicts.

Following repeated attacks resulting in high casualties in Benue State, the governor, Samuel Ortom, signed the state Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law in May 2017.

It was the first of its kind in the country.

Also, governors of southern states in the country banned open grazing after a meeting in June in Asaba, Delta State.

Three thousand six hundred (3,600) people died from farmers-herders crises between 2016 and 2018 in Nigeria, said Amnesty International. In 2020 alone, over 1,500 people died from farmers-herders conflicts and insurgency, according to Amnesty International.

Climate Change

The Framework Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations describes climate change as “a change of climate attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere, and is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods.”

The Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) says the burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change.

Apart from destabilizing the earth’s climate, climate change contributes about two/thirds of human exposure to outdoor air pollution.

The US and China are said to be contributing about 40 per cent of global carbon emissions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says climate change impacts human lives and health in various ways.

It threatens the essential ingredients of good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, and safe shelter – and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health, says the agency.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change may cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress alone. According to the WHO, direct damage to health by climate change could be between $2 billion and $4 billion per year by 2030.

Despite witnessing late and inadequate rainfalls, the Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) – a publication of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) – shows that Abuja is among parts of Nigeria that flooding affects. Flooding is one of the effects of climate change.

“The flood predictions indicated that parts of 121 LGAs in 27 States and the FCT fall within the highly probable flood risk areas, while parts of 302 LGAs in all the 36 states of the federation including the FCT fall within the moderately probable flood risk areas.

Total rain days in the FCT in 2020 were 95. Meanwhile, Bayelsa had 195, while Cross River and Akwa Ibom recorded 155 each. The nation’s capital was among locations that recorded a low spell of drought by mid-year in 2020, according to NIMET.

In 2019, a flood swept away an FCT High Court Finance Director Tony Okecheme at the Galadimawa Roundabout in Abuja. In 2020, another flood killed five people in Gwagwalada and submerged many houses in the city. The flood also wreaked havoc at Bwari and other areas of the FCT.

Climate change, others force more Nigerians into cities

Meanwhile, climate change and increased insecurity in Nigeria forces more people into cities believed to be more comfortable and safer. Population growth makes residents scramble for available land. Hence, farming suffers, and food production declines. The 2006 National Population Census put the population of Abuja at 1.40 million.

It climbed to 3.46 in 2021, according to the World Population Review.

The Oxford Business Group, through a 2017 study done by the Federal School of Surveying and the FCDA, projects the city’s population growth to be 8.32 per cent yearly, while its satellite communities would grow at 20 per cent per annum.

The Nigerian government has repeatedly blamed the rising cost of food on climate change and insecurity, though experts attribute the rise to inflation. For instance, a bag of rice was sold for N8,000 in Abuja in 2013. In June 2021, it jumped to N30,000, recording an almost 400 per cent increase.

Similarly, a mudu (local bowl for measuring) of garri (cassava granules) sold for N200 in 2018. In July 2021, it climbed to N500. Mudu of Guinea corn sold for N200 in 2018. In July 2021, it rose to N450. Five tubers of yam, which sellers gave away for N1,500 in 2018, sell for N5,000 in 2021. (This reporter got all the prices at the Gosa Market along Airport Road, Abuja).

In June, the ICIR reported how food prices remained high, despite a drop in inflation.

Women farmers in Nigeria

According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, women farmers constitute over 60 per cent of the agriculture labour force in Nigeria. They carry out about 80 per cent of agricultural production, 60 per cent of agricultural processing activities, and 50 per cent of animal husbandry and related activities.

Yet, they have access to less than 20 per cent of agricultural assets. The majority of farmers in Nigeria are smallholder farmers, and the majority of the smallholder farmers are women.

Over 500,000 women farmers in Nigeria work under the aegis of SWOFON.

SWOFON seeks to improve women farmer’s wellbeing by engaging relevant stakeholders to support women farmers in Nigeria.

FCTA reacts

The FCT’s Agriculture and Rural Development Secretariat says it has been working within its resources.

It admits it could not help farmers in the city in 2020 and blames it on COVID-19 and the EndSARS protest.

Its Director, Planning and Strategy, Yahaya Useni, says protesters looted stores where the government kept farm inputs during the EndSARS.

However, contrary to this claim, the protest fingered by the government took place in October when the harvest was ongoing or had ended.

Useni says the secretariat is a service-driven institution and always responds to the needs of farmers, especially women farmers in the city.

“Our targets for support are the vulnerable people among the farmers, especially the women. We want to help them to sustain food security. We cannot give everybody everything they need to farm. But, for those who are vulnerable, we want to support them to fend for themselves. If we promise them, we fulfil,” he explains.

He explains that climate change is a natural phenomenon, adding that the FCTA is promoting climate-smart agriculture, which includes irrigated farming.

“We are very serious about this. Our extension workers are in all the area councils to sensitize the farmers on this climate-smart agriculture,” he says.

Speaking on the invasion of farms by herders, he notes that herders and their host communities have always lived harmoniously. He, however, blames “intruders and foreigners” for the invasion.

He says there has been sensitization between farmers and herders in the city to enable each party to do its business without interruption from the other.

According to him, the FCTA has keyed into the Livestock Transformation programme of the Federal Government to promote agriculture in the country.

There are four grazing reserves in the FCT, he says.

Budget for Agriculture in Nigeria

The FCT’s Agriculture and Rural Development Secretariat refused to provide detail of its budget. According to public records, the Senate had approved a revised budget of N199.2 billion for the FCT in 2020.

FCT Minister Mohammed Bello presented a budget of N299.9 billion earlier this year.

The Guardian had in January this year reported that the government allocated less than 15 per cent of the annual budget to agriculture against the Maputo Declaration’s recommendation of at least 10 per cent.

The Nigerian government budgeted N280 billion for agriculture in 2021. The amount represents 1.73 per cent of the N13.6 trillion Appropriation Act for the year.

* This report was made possible with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP)

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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