By Amadin Uyi with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP)
“WE had to eat our seeds, it was as bad as that. When all the food we stocked finished, we started eating our seeds…”
This is the lamentation of Peace Chijioke, one of the small scale women farmers resident in Abuja as she recounts the recent ordeal she and her family went through following the lockdown necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Peace, a resident of the Gwagwalada area council in Abuja who farms at Kwali area, a neigbouring community, painted a bleak picture of hunger, lack, and hardship.
“I do not know of other people, there is no how you will have rice in your house and your neighbor is crying ‘I don’t have food’, and you will not give out, so by the time we experienced all these during the lockdown, there was no food even for us”.
Stories such as this show that the lockdown had tremendous effects on farmers, especially women farmers.
Several other women farmers in Abuja have a similar experience, as the investigation into the effect of the lockdown on women farmers shows.
A visit to the bustling Kuje community, outskirts of the city centre where the reporter met with two women farmers: Ladi Bulus and Mercy Nnanna, is a testimony of this reality.
A walk to Ladi’s farm where she grows groundnut, cassava, yam, pepper, beans and other crops took a little over thirty minutes from her residence.
The farm looked scanty, even though it has started to rain.
Ladi admits that farming has served as a lifeline for her family in the last twenty-years but fears the COVID-19 pandemic is posing a major challenge to her career as a farmer.
“The farming has helped me a lot, from the farming I help my family in terms of food, we eat abundantly, we don’t buy food, at times I sell it (my produce) and get money to assist my husband in paying school fees and other things at home.”
This was, however, before the pandemic and the lockdown by the government which stopped movement to even farms by women farmers.
For Ladi, the story is a changed one with the fear of the unknown, whether things will revert to normal.
This is because Ladi reveals that produce harvested from her farms were not easily sold and they were returned home from the market during the recent lockdown imposed by both the federal and states government.
“Since there is the lockdown, I cannot take my produce to the market and even when you get to the market, there is no free movement again.”
Mercy Nnanna also resident in Kuje confirms Ladi’s story.
Mercy revealed that the government’s annual provision of inputs for struggling women farmers was suspended indefinitely and till now, there is no information on when it will resume.
“Before now the federal government would have flagged off the 50 percent discount input, but now it is not available, as a result, the input is very expensive so it is really telling on us.”
Mercy is not only into crop farming but also poultry farming, she says that even this aspect of farming was not spared as the movement restriction affected traders and buyers.
“ I didn’t even mention how to access the market in the area of my poultry farm, it is a very difficult challenge right now.”
Another woman farmer at the Abaji area of Abuja, Godiya Peter also took time to recount her experience during the lockdown.
Godiya’s story was not different from that of her counterparts Ladi and Mercy.
She says her farm was overgrown with weeds as the restriction of movement stopped further work on her farm and fears her cassava will perform poorly as they were outgrown by weeds struggling for vital nutrients.
“Now, I have planted cassava which has germinated but remember that you have to weed the farm but when the coronavirus came, they imposed a lockdown saying everybody should remain at home, how could I then weed my farm”
The session with these women farmers from different area councils in Abuja showed that every farmer was seriously affected by the lockdown imposed by the pandemic and paints a bleak picture for the 2020 farming season.
Current data published by the Johns Hopkins University says that more than 18.6 million people were infected with the virus from about 188 countries and territories, including more than 703,000 deaths.
In Africa alone, Nigeria trails behind South Africa and Egypt that both have 521,318 and 94,752 cases respectively and have recorded death tolls in thousands.
With Nigeria’s figures rising to over 45,000 cases and 950 deaths and still counting, many predict the virus has come to stay
However, for a country battling with food shortages and having to import food to the tune of billions of naira for its over two hundred million population, it is clear Nigeria is in a terrible situation
With women farmers one of those mostly hit, it presents a major challenge for the federal government
This is because according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, women farmers account for 75 percent of Nigeria’s farming population.
As many of them count their losses following the gradual easing up of the coronavirus lockdown across the country, farmers like Peace, Mercy, Ladi and Godiya hope the federal government will act quickly and provide interventions needed to manage the current farming season.