COVID-19: Women farmers in Anambra recount negative impacts on businesses
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By Alfred AJAYI
The global health challenge, COVID-19, which affected every sphere of life in Nigeria and across the globe, has not spared the agricultural sector. And among the worst it are smallholder women farmers across the country.
In this investigative report, made possible with support from the International Budget Partnership, (IBP), correspondent Alfred AJAYI highlights the impacts of COVID -19 on smallholder women farmers in Idemili, North, Ekwusigo, Orumba North, Ogbaru, and Nnewi South Local Government Areas of Anambra State.
ANAMBRA State by the outcome of the last population census in 2006, has a total population of four million, one hundred and seventy-seven thousand, eight hundred and twenty-eight. The population is expected to have grown to six million going by the 2.2 per cent national annual population growth.
An Agricultural Value Chain Expert, Mr Abraham Ogwu, in an interview with Radio Nigeria, revealed that women, who are largely involved in subsistence farming, constitute over seventy per cent of the entire farmer population in the country.
“You see all through the value chain. They are farm managers, they are suppliers of labour. They are involved in other activities like harvesting, processing, selling of these farm produce. You may hardly see them in all these long-term gestation crops, most especially export crops like cocoa and cotton. But when it comes to food crops, you see them planting pepper, vegetables. You see them in rice production, maize production. Also, you see in smallscale poultry, piggery, fishery. In a nutshell, the significance of women in ensuring food security is not something we should relegate”.
Statistical evidence also indicates that over five hundred thousand women farmers operate under the umbrella of Small Scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria, SWOFON, in various parts of the country, including Anambra State.
The goal of this all-important group is to advocate for and support women farmers especially those in rural areas, to spur rural village economic development, increase food production through capacity building of smallholder women farmers to demand for their rights and privileges from the duty bearers, while serving as vocal and visible pressure group on behalf of smallholder women farmers in Nigeria.
For different reasons, some of theserural women farmers have becomebreadwinners of their various families and are poised to weather the storms not minding the drudgery and other challenges associated with small scale farming. They have kept their passion and are undeterred in the quest to contribute to the food security programme of the government.
…Rude interruption by COVID-19
However, the global health challenge, covid-19 pandemic, which had shattered national and global economies, did not spare these farmers, as revealed in separate interactions with some of them in various communities of Idemili, North, Ekwusigo, Orumba North, Ogbaru, and Nnewi South Local Government Areas.
Mrs Georgina Akunyiba lost her husband in October 2014 but the proceeds of her agricultural engagements have kept her afloat.
She boasted, “It was when I was in secondary school that I started this business. Then I continued from there. When my husband died in 2014, my first daughter was reading Anatomy, first year in the University. Today, she has graduated and finished her NYSC service. My son you saw in the shop was at SS 3 that time. He finished from secondary school and is now studying Animal Science, 400 Level, to produce more people from Agriculture. The other one is now entering. It’s all from agriculture to pay house rent, meet other demands. Let me tell you that I am looking for anybody to come and help me. Yes, I am a widow, but God has been helping me through this agriculture”.
Despite her exploits in poultry farming, Mrs Akunyiba, who co-ordinates the Small Scale Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria in Anambra State, recounted bitterly the effects of covid-19 on her business.
“This COVID-19 did a lot to me. We were supposed to dispose these birds by Easter. But there was no market. Even egg is not moving. Two hundred layers are supposed to eat one bag of feed a day. But, now because of the problem, we are rationing them and the basic result is to cut egg. They will lose weight. And you know that when you want to buy, you will look for a bigger one. The question is where is the money to feed them to reach the size that everybody will want to buy. One of our members took loan from the cooperative for poultry business. I tell you she ran at a loss, making only fifty thousand naira plus from a business she invested eighty five thousand naira. It is difficult for her to pay back now”.
Investigation also revealed that the lockdown ordered by the federal and Anambra state governments as part of measures to halt the spread of coronavirus left several of these women farmers with tale of woes.
Mrs Monica Igbokwe, who leads small scale women farmers in Nnewi South Local Government Area, is a former manager in one of the insurance companies in the country. She told this reporter in May 2020 that her voyage into farming started only six years ago and shs has nothing to regret, but for COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have a farm in Igbariam where I cultivate yam, cassava and many other things. Then at home, I start this poultry business. But, this coronavirus has brought everything back. Now, we are in May, by now we should have started farming. But when I got to the market to get cassava stems, the stems I got five hundred naira last year, were sold for one thousand, five hundred naira. If I could buy fifty bundles last year, this coronavirus had made it that I should buy only ten. I cannot even travel to where I go to get some input. You now see that something will happen”.
For Mrs Stella Onuchukwu, a farmer in Ufuma, Orumba North Local Government Area, farming is enjoyable but COVID-19 also dealt a big blow to them at the peak of the lockdown.
“We operate as a cooperative society here. We do cassava cultivation and garri processing. The coronavirus disease really affected us. During the time they said we should stay at home, our machine broke down and we did not have the money to repair. Even when we succeeded in raising the money, the next challenge was how to get somebody to come and carry out the repairs. For days, economic activities at the mill were stalled until we finally got somebody who came all the way from Onitsha to Ufuma here to repair. And even for that person to get here was a tug of war”.
Mrs Onuchukwu feared the situation, which had adversely affected agricultural activities, while it lasted, may further raise the prices of agricultural produce in the months ahead.
Mrs Eunice Nduka in Atani, Ogbaru Local Government Area was into business before venturing into farming. She now specialises in the cultivation of cassava and maize. The young and energetic mother lamented the failure of the government to encourage the women farmers as they contribute to food production in various parts of the country.
“I prefer farming than business because when you farm, you have food to eat. But when you do business, you will be buying food. That’s why I chose to be a farmer. People have been coming to us to register. We have been writing our names, but to no avail. I haven’t received anything, but I am pleading to the government so that they will come to my rescue. I can do more than I am doing at the moment, with the right assistance from the government”.
However, Mrs Ngozi Obiajulu, at Ihembosi, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, has a different story to tell about COVID-19 and its impact on agriculture. For her, COVID-19 has no negative impacts on their business. This may be hinged on the fact that Ihembosi is a remote location, where enforcement of the lockdown would not have been as serious as it was in the urban centres.
“We were in our farm o. You can’t tell women to stay in-door in this our community. Women are bread winners of their families and nothing stops them from going to farm at any time they want to. The only thing we did then was Personal Protective Equipment. We wore our facemasks and hand gloves when we wanted to remove crops or weeds from our farms. But, to ask us to stay at home, it’s not possible. Okay, if we have stayed in-door, who gives us food to eat? What would have been our fate now? You can see the crops growing so fast. If we had stayed at home, we will just be starting the whole process of farming now”.
…Government is also concerned
As part of efforts to minimise the negative impacts of the pandemic on the economy of the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari in a nationwide broadcast, on April 13, 2020, ordered that the Social Register of the poor and vulnerable be extended from two point six million to three point six million in the next two weeks.
The President also directed the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertilizer Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to minimise the impact of the pandemic on 2020 farming season.
On its part, the Central Bank of Nigeria on March 17, announced a Credit Relief Package of fifty billion naira for businesses affected by the pandemic including households, small and medium sized enterprises, hotels and healthcare merchants, airline operators as well as agriculture food chain businesses.
In Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano, during one of his previous broadcasts on COVID-19, directed farmers to return to their farms as the only way to prevent the impending hunger.
The governor also announced plans of the government to improve food security in the state.
He said the government would provide women and youths with cages for poultry and feedstock for birds in order to achieve food security.
Inputs at subsidised rates for farmers.
Although nothing was specifically mentioned for small-scale farmers in the interventions by Federal and Anambra State governments, it was expected that the implementation of some of the measures enumerated above would impact them positively.
However, all the small-holders women farmers interviewed across the five selected local government areas of the state were embittered that the milk of kindness from the federal and state governments had not flowed to them.
Mrs Onuchekwu said: “Nothing nothing and we have been applying for assistance. Even we applied not only to the federal but also the state government. Yet, nothing has been given to us”
For Mrs Igbokwe: “Government is a total disappointment to me. we went to ADP and submitted our data. I just came back from Awka yesterday to submit the ID card that they have said I will submit. Yet, I have seen nothing”.
The coordinator of SWOFON, Mrs Georgina Akunyiba and her members wondered how these incentives are disbursed that their members have not been getting them all these years, especially now that the coronavirus diseased had undermined agricultural production.
The women were equally dismayed that several interventions targeted at them by successive administrations had ended up in the hands of political farmers.
“None has been given to us except the inputs of maize and cassava that they shared last week to local government. They tried for that. But if you are talking about animal husbandry and other things, we have seen anything. We were only hearing it on radio and watching them saying these things on the television. We are the main farmers. All these politicians are political farmers. But they are the ones getting all forms of incentives. Putting the money, where there is no assurance of it yielding any good dividends of increased food production, is an error”.
Her counterpart, Mrs Igbokwe, advised the government to redesign the implementation strategies for some of these interventions to ensure that the targeted beneficiaries take advantage of them.
“I am now advising them, if you want to help the farmers, always try to take the help to where the farmers can be found. If you continue dealing with farmers using some of these fraudsters who divert whatever the government is bringing, food security will remain threatened and we all will suffer for it. I think special attention must be given to women farmers. We are too many across the country to be neglected”.
…Essence of gender policy in agriculture defeated
These testimonies are against the spirit of the Gender Policy in Agriculture, designed to promote and ensure the adoption of gender-sensitive and responsive approaches towards engendering agriculture plans and programmes in such a way that men and women have access to and control of productive resources and facilities to bridge gender gaps.
The policy document also targets to enhance the platform to build an agri-business ecosystem to meet both domestic and foreign demands to achieve food security and accelerated development.
It provides a policy direction and underscores the fact that, the different roles of women and men in agriculture for development and gender equality in access to resources as well as equal opportunities in maximizing means of livelihood, is a necessary condition for progressively realizing the SDGs.
The Gender Policy is therefore expected to drastically reduce the vulnerability of women to biases in agriculture, address the unequal gender power relation and bridge gender gap. Improve the contributions of Small Holder Farmers who are predominantly women though huge, yet their access base to Agricultural asset is low.
The policy was a response to the realization that gender inequalities limit agricultural productivity and efficiency and in so doing, undermine development agenda. Failure to recognize the different roles of women and men is costly because it results in misguided projects and programmes, foregone agricultural output and incomes, as well as food and nutrition insecurity.
It is therefore time to take into account the critical contribution and role of women in agricultural production in order to move women, as the main farmers and producers in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, beyond production for subsistence into higher value, market oriented production.
The agricultural value chain development expert, Mr Abraham Ogwu, suggested what the government can do to cushion the negative impacts of the coronavirus on women farmers.
Development projects should be tailored to suit women. If we are able to break that barrier of access, food insecurity challenge can be overcome. We need to look at how women can be better organized to be able to have access to extension services, financial services, market information. I know every sector needs attention at this critical time. But, I advise the government to pay greater attention to agriculture. Allocation to agriculture to be increased to invest in activities that will help to prevent food crisis.
Apart from this, Mr Ogwu encouraged productive synergy between the government, the private sector, financial service providers and development partners to work together towards improving the lot of these neglected segment of the farming population.
He also advised policymakers to promptly increase access and address the problem of capacity, which had hitherto impacted negatively on the small scale women farmers.
…the final assurance
The women assured that if adequately encouraged with all the needed assistance, they are poised to help government achieve the lofty goals around food security, despite the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on the agricultural sector.
The helpless farmers also expressed optimism that Nigeria can beat the imminent food scarcity, orchestrated by the pandemic, if all tiers of government would adequately encourage all aspects of agricultural production to be at their best, whether small, medium or large scale farming.
*This report was made possible with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP).