By Akinwale ABOLUWADE
FOR female farmers in Oyo State under the aegis of Smallholder Women Farmers of Nigeria (SWOFON), climate change is a compelling reality that has had a telling effect on their agriculture business.
The biting effects of climate change on the global community took a bad twist for the smallholder women farmers in the state with sudden stop in rainfall in 2020, leading to poor harvest for many of them.
Adedeji started farming four years ago after getting married. At first, she had high hopes with the belief that, with everything being favourable, the harvest would be good. However, she said the reverse was the case as the weather had been inclement.
She said that initially, she took solace in the news that the government would support farmers as a result of the biting effects of COVID-19, but said things got worse for her as help failed to come her way.
“I borrowed part of the money that I invested on farming last year. The agreement was that I would refund the loan after harvest, but the plants dried up soon after planting as a result of lack of rainfall. I lost everything. We heard that the state government had a support scheme for farmers but we have not got any support in this community.”
Now, she said, apart from being in debt from her 2020 misadventure, she also does not have the resources to farm this year.
“I ought to have planted maize by now, but the only hope that I have is assistance from the government. Like I said, no help has come from the government in terms of zero interest loans. Without this, I don’t have any hope that I would be able to engage in commercial farming this year, she said,” looking sad.
To realise the hope of cultivating about five acres of maize on her farm this year, Adedeji said she would require a minimum of N250,000. This, according to her, would be used for clearing the farm, ploughing, procuring seedlings, chemical and fertilizer and to pay the labourers.
Coordinator of SWOFON in Ibarapa East Local Government Area of Oyo State Babalola Fowomola said she also had a similar experience last year.
Fowomola, whose farm is at Olohunde community, is a maize and cassava farmer. She explained that female farmers in the zone, under the leadership of Baale Agbe of Lanlate and Eruwa, faced a myriad of challenges. Beginning from uprooting of trees to planting and cultivation, she said getting support was difficult.
She described the experience on the farm last year as unpleasant.
“Climate change, caused by drought, posed a lot of problems for us as farmers. We would plant and the entire thing would perish as a result of drought, pests and diseases.
“We incurred huge losses as a result of this. We planted maize, it germinated well but it stopped raining and the entire plants dried up. Things got worse for us when cattle rearers invaded our farms to graze their animals there. At Ilado community where I also have my farm, last year, we farmers ran into huge losses. Personally, I lost a total of N386,000. This is why we have food shortages. They now sell a pickup load of cassava for N240,000 and the price continues to rise.
“Unlike the situation in the north where farmers have access to irrigation to fight drought as well as other agric incentives, we are not being catered for here. We want the government to change the pattern of putting a particular zone on priority list. \
“Nigeria has the potential to feed many African countries if agriculture is given the required attention. But we have the problem of funding. In this zone, we never got any support from the government. Our farms are attacked by pests and diseases.
“Government should give us support by helping farmers to open up land for farming and through irrigation. They should support us through provision of chemicals and fertilizers and through construction of roads so that we can transport farm products.
“At the moment when we harvest tomatoes and pepper, transporting them to the market is a big problem. My farm is about 10 kilometres to market. For instance, you may want to sell tomatoes worth N2,000 and the bike man may want to charge as much as N1,500 for transportation. In this case, what would be the gain?”
A 73-year-old water melon farmer Mama Bose Ojerinde expressed worries that despite having vast arable land, the country was largely dependent on foreign countries to feed its citizens. This, she reasoned, was as a result government’s ineptitude and poor commitment to mass food production.
Recalling her plights over the years, the female watermelon farmer said she had had a bad experience but added that she had the worst year in 2020 due to bad weather and the diseases that infected her plants.
“Last year, I cultivated about four acres of watermelon farm. The crop did not yield as much as expected due to lack of money to procure chemicals to fight pests. It stopped raining before the crops matured and we were unable to apply chemicals at the right time. Most of the watermelons that I planted eventually rot away.
“I invested roughly N150,000. I managed to recoup N50,000, so it was a huge loss for me. My farm is about 20 kilometers from the nearest market. It is costly and demanding to move my products from farm to the market. My saving grace was that I ensured that I didn’t take the risk of taking loans because it is hard to repay. I managed to pull resources together on my own.”
A cashew farmer in Itoku community near Eruwa, Victoria Adesope, has cultivated her three acres of cashew plantation for almost 10 years ago. She said fighting pests and diseases was as challenging for her as securing her farm from the invasion by cattle rearers who sometimes cut down some of her cashew trees and stole the nuts to sell to buyers.
“We need chemicals to prevent the cashew from being infected by diseases. We also need money for clearing weeds. Last year, cashew yield was not encouraging as a result of sparse rainfall.”
She also said that in her decade of farming, neither the state nor the federal government had extended any hand of help to her.
“In the past 10 years since I came into farming, I never got any support from any government. We appeal to both the state and federal governments to give us financial aid or loan,” she said.
A cassava farmer at Ologojo village Banke Adedeji said she was unable to recoup the capital that she invested on her five-acre farmland as a result of poor weather conditions. She explained that having spent approximately N500,000 to plough the land, to purchase cassava stems and transport it to her farm, she lost the total investment as her farm was attacked by grasshoppers. She said her crops were completely decimated as she had no money to procure pesticide to combat the pests that ate up her plants.
A resident of Biiro Village in Oriire Local Government Area of Oyo State Motunrayo Ajamu is also into cashew farming. She has been in the business since 2006 and regularly cultivates four acres. She has also had her fair share of unsavoury experiences in the hand of nature.
“Although rain, whether excessive or not, usually does not have adverse effects on cashew, it requires harmattan to produce more fruits. In the recent past we had a serious challenge when cashew plantations were infected by diseases. The nuts just rot away. The year 2020 harvest was so bad for us as a result of that.”
She appealed to both the federal and the state ministries of agriculture to give technical support to farmers in Oyo State in order to mitigate the impact of climate change and diseases.
“I have never been lucky to attend any training workshop on how to improve my yields. I never got any government loan or empowerment on farming. In this community, we always hear about budgetary allocation to agriculture but we have never benefited from it. Sometimes they would ask us to open account with a promise that loan would be disbursed to us but that never happened.
“We were never given any support, be it chemicals, fertilizer or farming implements. We source loans by ourselves from cooperative societies to cultivate our farms.”
A palm tree farmer and palm oil producer at Biiro Village in Orrire Local Government Area of Oyo State Sarah Ogungbile told our reporter that in her 15 years of farming, the situation had never been as dicey as it was presently as a result of the erratic change in weather condition. She said that apart from the difficulties being encountered due to lack of access to hygienic water supply in the village and shortage of palm kernels crushing machines, the adverse effects of harmattan impacted on yields.
“For assistance, we called on the government but we were not given any attention. We told our representatives in the local government councils in Ogbomoso to make a case for us at the Oyo State Ministry of Agriculture in Ibadan but there was no result.”
A female farmer who specialises in cultivation of yam and cassava in Surulere, Maria Ajiboye, also expressed her frustrations as a farmer, saying, “Since 50 years ago when I started farming, I never got any support from the government. I plant maize, cassava, millet and yam. In the last five years, I never made any remarkable profit in farming. If you don’t have a shortage of rainfall this year, there will be diseases affecting your plants. Many of us still engage in farming because we were born into it and we have no other means of livelihood.
“Never in my life have I got any support from the government whether at the federal, state or local level. We learnt that provisions were made in the yearly budget to assist farmers but sadly, female farmers in this community don’t have any of those benefits. We want this to change because things are so difficult for us.”
However, contrary to claims by the female farmers that they were being neglected by both the federal and state governments, the Oyo State government claimed that it prioritised agriculture.
Governor Seyi Makinde had variously described agriculture as a vital pillar upon which economic growth by his administration stands. In the 2019 budget, agricultural equipment worth N50 million and other equipment valued at N10 million were provided for farmers. Also, N350 million was also allotted for production of farm seedlings in the same fiscal year.
No clear provision was made in the 2020 state budget. The governor, during the presentation of the year 2020 budget, had declared a paltry 4.43 per cent allocation to agriculture while the state Ministry of Works which took 23.93 per cent, had the highest sectoral allocation in the year’s budget. Education came next to it with 22.37 per cent of the N208.8 billion Appropriation Bill in the 2020 fiscal year.
The governor said, “A total of 4.43 per cent of the budget was allocated to the agricultural sector. We remain determined to utilise agriculture to drive our economy. We are implementing policies that will transform farming activities, increase production and improve the quality of food crops, livestock exports and industrial crops through application of modern technology.”
However, no serious emphasis was laid on addressing the problem of climate change. No particular mention was made on the irrigation system to assuage the plights of farmers whose efforts get wasted.
The Special Adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde on Agribusiness Debo Akande said the resources being committed to fighting climate change by the Nigerian government had not been massive “but that doesn’t imply that the government turned its back to reality.”
“The Oyo State budget for agriculture for 2021 is the third largest sectoral budget for the state in the fiscal year,” he said.
“Climate change did not just come last year, climate change issue had been raised for a very long time but I don’t think it was taken very seriously until we started seeing the effects.
“I worked on climate change precisely when I was working with British government in 2007 and since then, we have been talking and clamouring about the government focusing on adaptation and mitigation of climate change focusing on what we call climate change agriculture.
“For us in Oyo State, this has been said on a number of occasions. Our approach is to do the public-private and development partnership and one of our core development partners is the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which guided us through adopting what we call ‘climate change approach’ in all our processes that we engage in the state.
“We didn’t say we get it all right; we are not perfect but at least, we are able to adopt some of the technologies that would help with climate change. So, we talk about varieties that are related to the issue of smart agricultural approaches or methodologies that you can adopt in farming that are very climate change mitigation prone.
So, we would do more of that this year and we are hoping that it would support the productivity of the smallholder farmers across the board and as we are also engaging in industrial agriculture, we would be doing what we call ‘Beyond the Rain’ to go into irrigation farming.”
Reacting to the bad experience that the farmers had last year with particular reference to the smallholders female farmers, he said, “I can understand if the smallholder farmers say that because with what happened last year, they became disappointed, but the state has started supporting the smallholder farmers. We have a project called ‘Oyo N-care,’ which is a World Bank-supported project that is earmarked to support a specific number of farmers within the state. We launched that project at Ibarapa and Igbo Ora just last week.
“We would be supporting a good number of farmers in the state on diverse crops. We are hoping that this would help to raise the hope of our farmers. The launch has to do with training of women farmers on how to increase the capacity of women in agriculture. We don’t push women back. We, rather, are supporting the women and we would continue to support them.”
Apparently making reference to the agricultural farm estate at Awe, Afijio Local Government Area of Oyo State, where youths are being trained in agricultural practices, being run in partnership with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Akande said, “over 9300 smallholders farmers were supported last year by the state government with inputs.”
He added, “They are farmers that we have their records and biometrics within the state. If you have checked the NBS data recently, Oyo State has the lowest level of food inflation within the country.”
The Beijing Declaration had recommended “increase training in technical, managerial, agricultural extension and marketing for women in agriculture, fisheries, industry and business, arts and crafts to increase income generating opportunities, women participation in economic decision-making in particular through women’s organisations at the grass-roots level, and their contribution to production, marketing, business, science and technology.”
With last year’s prediction of persistent rainstorm by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the farmers had expected serious flooding. To their dismay, however, drought was experienced instead. With fresh warnings again this year, some farmers have begun to express doubts. However, NiMet has reiterated its confidence on its level of preparedness to guarantee credible and reliable services to all relevant sectors, including agriculture this year.
Director of Public Affairs in the Ministry of Aviation James Odaudu quoted NiMet`s Director-General Sani Mashi as saying, “As beneficiaries of the Seasonal Climate Prediction by NiMet look forward to this year’s event, the organisation is now better placed than before to deliver on its mandates and responsibilities.” However, information available on predictions to farmers by NiMet has, so far, been sketchy.
Weather predictions are supposed to be a wake-up call to governments at all levels to put measures in place to ensure that when the rainfall patterns predicted come to pass, they as well as the citizens are not caught napping.
Governor Makinde’s aide on agricbusiness had said, “But not much has been done (in addressing climate change). I probably want to think that what happened last year would create that challenge for the government to start doing what is necessary.”
A research work titled, ‘The potential impact of climate change on Nigerian agriculture’ by Joshua Ajetomobi, Olusanya and Ajakaye and Adeniyi Gbadegesin, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, examined how extreme weather conditions had affected the mean and variance of the yield
of some food crops in some states over the period of 22 years (1991-2012).
It indicated that the productivity of more than half of the staple crops in Nigeria was threatened by increase in total annual rainfall and extreme temperature across states in Nigeria.
The research findings specifically indicated a clear level of variation in crops’ production and risk response to extreme weather across states, stating that productivity of yam, maize, tomato, and melon was threatened by an increase in total annual rainfall, while such an increase would have a beneficial effect on the productivity of cassava and ginger.
It stressed that extreme temperatures had a negative association with cassava and sweet potato yields, stating, however, that for crops predominantly grown in northern Nigeria such as millet, onion, tomatoes, and melon, the association would be positive.
Given the importance of cassava in the Nigerian food basket and the increase in recent years in the number of days with temperatures above 34o C, it recommended that efforts should be made to further develop cassava cultivars that were more heat-resistant.
It explained that extreme temperatures increased the yield risk of onion and okra which were two major vegetable crops in the country.
This, the researchers said, called for increased attention to dry season irrigation in order to enhance the productivity of the important vegetables.
In conclusion, the research indicated that whereas climate change might have adverse effect on agriculture in Nigeria, the effects on yields would vary with geography and crop.
“Our results show that the productivity of more than half of Nigeria’s staple crops is threatened by an increase in total annual rainfall; however, such an increase in water availability would have a beneficial effect on the productivity of a few crops grown in Northern Nigeria such as millet, onion, and melon.”
The analysis warned that extreme temperatures were important limiting factors for crop growth in more than one-quarter of the states in Nigeria with the worst affected states being those in northern Nigeria.
The crop that would most likely be affected, according to the researchers, was maize.
However, they suggested potential adaptive measures such as improved irrigation, introduction of weather-based insurance schemes, introduction of new crops and crop varieties as effective measures to mitigate potential negative effects of climate change.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in drought-prone sub-Saharan African countries, under which Nigeria falls, the number of undernourished people had increased by a total of 45.6 per cent since 2012.
In 2019, the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs said 34 million people globally experienced food shortage due to extreme levels of climate change.
The initiative by SWOFON has been geared towards increased participation of women in agriculture using modern techniques and methodologies. In Nigeria, SWOFON is at the forefront of smallholder women farmers empowerment. In its charter of demand, SWOFON advocated for zero interest on loans for female farmers, supply of gender-friendly equipment among others through adequate provision for them in the annual budgets at the three tiers of government.