With the havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown that left the world at a standstill, GRACE OBIKE, with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP), had a chat with smallholder women farmers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on how the situation affected them.
IMAGINE a farmer braving the lockdown that commenced in March, trekking back and forth to her farm for lack of transportation, labouring for weeks to cultivate her farmland, which is her only means of livelihood and finally planting maize.
She tends it like a baby since she cannot purchase the much-needed fertiliser that this type of crop thrives on, then watches it grow to waist length as the weeks go by only to return on a fateful day to discover that all she had planted had been eaten up by herds of cattle.
The above scenario is the plight of many small-scale farmers in different parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Recalling her sad story, Asibi Gade, a small-scale woman farmer who resides in Small Shada, opposite the Mathematical Centre in Kwali Area Council, rents farmlands for N10, 000 per season on which to grow cassava which she will process into fufu in large quantity for sale, corn and rice.
The widow and mother of two who resides in a tiny two-bedroom bungalow with her unemployed graduate son explained to The Nation how last year, she and a group of women contributed resources and rented hectares of land for N10, 000 per hectare, cultivated corn and soybeans with the aim of sharing the profit. But when some of them went to harvest the produce, they found cattle on the farm having a field day.
“The herdsmen surrounded our women, uprooted the produce and fed them to their cattle. We lost everything. We arrested the herdsmen and took them to the police, but they advised us to accept the N20, 000 compensation they offered us if we don’t want to lose everything,” she said.
In Jiwa community of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), the experience of the farmers is similar.
Comfort Sunday just began a fish farm about two weeks ago to supplement her income from crops. She is just one of the hundreds of women in the community that farm in a large expanse of land divided into small plots without any form of demarcation among over 500 women who cultivate various vegetables such as waterleaf, garden-eggs and other crops. She plants rice, beans, corn and groundnut.
Last year, her group, the Smallholder Women Farmers’ of Nigeria (SWOFON) applied to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) for fertiliser, which they eventually got at a subsidised rate. She used the fertiliser on her beans crop and applied sufficient herbicides to ensure a good yield. Her bean crops were almost ready for harvest when herdsmen came to her farm and she lost everything as they cattle destroyed everything.
When she spoke with our reporter at her farm, she said during the lockdown, a couple in the community was returning from the farm when they came across herdsmen feeding their cattle with a neighbour’s crop. They confronted the herdsmen who attacked them with sticks and cutlasses and were eventually rescued by youths who got wind of the incident.
Why smallholder women farmers
According to a research conducted by Bashir Babura and published in the Scholarly Journal of Agricultural Science, Vol. 7 (1) in 2017, more than 80 per cent of farmers in Nigeria are smallholder farmers who produce an estimated 98 per cent of the food consumed in Nigeria apart from wheat. Many of the farmers are women. In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) alone, the Programme Coordinator SWOFON, Ogechi Okebugwu said at least 13,000 small-scale farmers are women.
Their farming is, however, constantly disrupted by incidents of clashes with herders in search of food for their cattle. To stem these incidents, the Federal Government attempted to introduce the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) policy, which was developed by the National Livestock Transformation Plan under the Nigerian Economic Council, but the move was faulted and has been adopted only by some states.
In pursuit of its diversification toward agriculture, the Federal Government’s budgetary allocations have continued to increase from 1.25 per cent in 2016 to 1.82 per cent in 2017 and 2.23 per cent in 2018.
Apart from launch of the programmes such as the N150 billion credit relief package by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for agriculture food chain businesses, FarmerMoni loans which have a three-month repayment period and the presidential fertiliser initiative for the 2020 farming season, the Federal Government recently announced that it intends to secure 995million Euro-worth of agricultural equipment for Nigerian farmers.
The FCT Authority also has the Agriculture Development Project (ADP), which delivers to women extension services towards ensuring that they are coordinated to key into agriculture development programmes.
The Deputy Director of Information and Communication of the Agriculture and Rural Development Secretariat of the FCT, Zakaria Aliyu said at the inception of every season, farmers are invited and offered subsidised agro-inputs such as fertilisers, insecticides, seedlings, poultry feeds, day-old chicks; fish processing inputs, water pumps and sprayers at 50 per cent subsidy.
In 2018 about 6,000 farmers were said to have benefited from the subsidy and 9,000 last year, but the support is yet to commence this farming season due to the lockdown, which has just been relaxed.
Who benefits from the programmes?
Despite the government’s investments in the agriculture sector, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has severely affected farming activities and, according to Gade, a food crisis may be inevitable in the country.
A resident of Kuchibuyi, a sleepy village in Bwari Area Council Laraba Shuiabu, is the second of two wives of a local farmer who has nine children and had spent most of the lockdown period caring for a daughter who had just undergone surgery.
Unlike the other women farmers, Shuiabu, who owns a large farm about 40 minutes’ walk from her home, cultivates corn, rice and groundnut, explained that while she had a bountiful harvest last year, sold high volume of her corn fresh during the season from which she paid her children’s school fees and other bills. She added that she still had up to 50 bags of dry corn which she sold, even as she said she has barely planted enough to feed her family this year.
She further explained that her bounty was possible last year because she hired a tractor to plough her farm, had access to pesticides, fertiliser and sufficient seedlings, but cannot afford to do same this year. She had to cultivate just a small portion of her farm on her own while the rest lay fallow because she is too exhausted to do more. This indicates that she won’t have enough to sell this year.
Investigations by The Nation revealed that many of the women usually engage in menial jobs or sell their crops to earn enough money to buy all they needed for the new season.
“I am used to packing sand from the river and sell to trucks who in turn sell to builders,” Shuiabu explained.
She continued: “The money that I realise from this is what I use to hire a tractor, buy seedlings, fertiliser and pesticides for my farm at a subsidised rate from the FCT, but they asked us not to leave home so I could not make the money I need. Last year, I used 10 bags of fertiliser on my farm but even if they offer me this year, I don’t have the money.
“With the way things are right now, this and the coming year, things will be hard in this country because we don’t have money to invest in our farms. We are unable to go out and sell the little produce we have because they asked us not to leave the house.”
Gade explained that she had lost over N50,000 during the lockdown because she was unable to supply her fufu to her consumers in the town like she always did and buyers that eventually made it to their community insisted on buying it half the price.
She said the development has affected the income she and other members of the community who survive off supplying fufu to the Abuja metropolis need to invest in her farm this season, adding that access to fertiliser will be a huge factor that determines yield this season because farmers like herself are unable to go and apply for fertiliser at the FCDA due to the lockdown.
What about the loans?
The Smallholder women farmers in the FCT who spoke with The Nation explained that, apart from lack of access to herbicides/pesticides, fertilisers, knapsacks and improved seedlings at subsidised rates, small-scale farmers are afraid of applying for the numerous farmers’ loans the government claims it is providing for them due to inability to meet the repayment terms.
“I am scared of loans because some of my neighbours who collected loans from micro-finance banks and other places now sleep inside the bush because of the aggressive way they chase them for the repayment of even N10, 000.
“They don’t have rest of mind. It scares me and I know that as a widow, no one will rescue me when the time comes. If I collect, how will I pay back? The fufu that I sell is no longer profitable because of the COVID-19; people no longer come to buy like before,” she said.
Sunday believes that the process of acquiring the loan is too stressful with the need for collateral and other requirements.
“The stress that one goes through to get the money is too much. It’s better one manages what one has,” she said.
A poultry farmer from Peyi village in Ushafa, under the Bwari Area Council, Wakilat Okeji said the government is yet to make any provision for small-scale poultry farmers that will help them make a profit.
“For me, Tradersmoni is just N50, 000. It’s not enough. My Marketmoni is just N10, 000. If one wants to set up a farm of 1,000 capacity birds, one will need not less than N1.8 million to N2 million. A standard poultry farm will help reduce the risk of mortality, but as a start-up poultry farmer, I cannot access N2 million from the regular commercial banks or some of the interventions offered by the government. They will still fund only small-scale where they give things such as N100, 000, N200, 000, which will not be enough to produce the capacity of making profit.”
She said she recently tried applying for the COVID-19 support but when she saw the conditions for N1.5 million, which include movable assets, a guarantor that is a professional or civil servant on level 12 and above, she was discouraged.
The Programme Coordinator of SWOFON said the group is currently working on getting a good bargain for their members to access opportunities provided by the government through the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC), including subsidised crops, subsidised livestock, commercial crops, machinery, equipment and agro-processing equipment.
Until that happens, farmers such as Shuiabu believe that women such as herself will not be comfortable applying for loans. She suggested that government officials should follow them to their communities and mobilise them rather than giving money to people who claim to represent them.
The Deputy Director of Information and Communication of the Agriculture and Rural Development Secretariat of the FCT, however, said support for the farmers is based on recommendations of agriculture officers who reside in the farm communities.
But Gade said the present interest rates on the loans offered by the government is too high, even as she called for the provision of power tillers, hand planters and improved seedlings.
“To encourage small-scale poultry farmers, the government should adopt the clustering method where they provide cluster facilities which will be like a hub where farmers can go and rent space. The space should have the capacity of 1, 000 birds per batch and all the needed facilities such as light, water, a veterinary doctor and security are provided to secure the pens,” Okeji stated.
More than providing facilities and affordable loans, Sunday said the problem of the herdsmen must also be addressed.
“If the government provides all that is needed and does not handle the menace of the herdsmen in our communities, then it will be as good as returning to square one because we will plant, weed but not harvest,” she said.