By Innocent DURU
IN October 2019, the Federal Government launched the National Gender Policy in Agriculture (NGPA), to give women farmers across the country more access to farming inputs and enhance their participation in the agricultural sector. At the event, the then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Nanono, said the scheme was expected to drastically reduce the vulnerability of women farmers, address the unequal gender power relation and bridge gender gap. Two years down the line, many women farmers, some of whom are struggling widows, are yet to benefit from the policy..Also the budgetary allocations to the women farmers are also nothing to write home about, thus they lack the resources to fight challenges militating against their productivity. Innocent DURU reports.
HANNAH Olaniyan is a graduate of Computer Science from Lagos State University (LASU). From childhood, she had nursed a keen interest in farming. For her, it was not out of place for her love for agriculture to grow stronger as she was rounding off her studies. Sadly, however, her fervor encountered a setback after she graduated. Her bid to access a piece of land for farming yielded no result.
Not willing to give up on her long-term dream of becoming a farmer, she journeyed from Lagos to Osun State to lease a piece of land on which she started planting cucumber. To maintain the farm, she had to regularly crisscross Lagos and Osun states, yet she remained undaunted because of her determination to make a success of her farming business.
Unfortunately, the modest success she recorded suffered a reversal last year when the government suddenly declared a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said: “I started from Osun State where I rented five acres of land to plant cucumber. But I left the place because of the lockdown restrictions.
“One thing about the kind of crop I planted is that it needed regular attention. So, you can’t just stay away for three days without attending to the farm.
“If you stay away for a long time, you will automatically lose whatever you have planted. That was the major reason I lost my investment in that particular farm.
“I actually reside in Lagos. And there was also restriction of movement at the same time. So, it was practically impossible for me to travel to Osun State.
“That was how I lost over N2 million just like that. It was, and it is still heartbreaking for me to go back to that farm. I know that I won’t see anything that will bring me one tenth of my investment on the farm.”
Ordinarily, Hannah’s initial loss on the Osun State farm should discourage her, but her undying love for agriculture was soon recharged. This time, she got another piece of land from land owners at FESTAC village, a residential area in Lagos, hoping to use it for farming before they would develop it.
But Hannah realises the risk involved in the new arrangement since the land owners can decide at any time to develop the land and kick her out.
She said: “They could give about one-month notice to the farmer to remove whatever she has on the land. In fact, the owner could come at any time even if the farmer has just planted the crops. The farmer will then have to go elsewhere.
“Nothing is certain for us farming here. That is why many people get discouraged and leave for other businesses.”
In rainy seasons, Hannah and her fellow farmers also face the risk of drowning as the scaffold, which is the wooden bridge which they use to access the farm, often gets submerged.
“The danger is, you don’t get to see the bridge when it gets covered with water, let alone knowing where to place your feet. At this period, we usually come in through another community, which is a longer route,” she said.
However, Hannah’s is just one of the numerous challenges confronting women farmers. Not a few female farmers are still confronted with the age-long problem of not getting the land to farm on, besides lack of access to modern farming equipment and fertilizer, among others.
The Small Scale Women Farmers of Nigeria (SWOFON) had previously submitted to the federal government a document titled ‘SWOFON Charter of Demand and Manifesto’. The document contained a list of their demands which they believe will address their predicament if implemented.
The demands include access to soft loan from the government, provision of gender friendly machinery for increased productivity, supply and access to free/subsidised farming inputs like fertilisers, chemicals, pesticides, construction of good road networks for easy access to markets, among others.
Till date, most of these demands are yet to be met.
“Is it not surprising that we are still using crude farming method in this age and time?” queried Omowumi Oluwayinka, a woman farmer at the Arepo section of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
“We don’t have the resources to hire tractors. This has telling effects on us as we have to hire labourers to work for us and we pay them every day.
“We pay each labourer N2,000 each time they come to work for us. This is one of the reasons we need the government to support us with funds and modern equipment.
“If we can get tractors to hire at subsidised rates, it will help us to work better.”
Oluwayimika is even more worried by her inability to own a ‘Smoking King’ to process her fish, whilst, she has all along been hoping that the cost would be subsidised for women farmers.
“But this has never happened”, she regretted, adding: “I am in urgent need of one. When I need to smoke fish, I rent one. I pay N200 per kilogramme where I smoke my fish.
“I always take the fish to someone who owns a Smoking King, because it is not movable. We calculate by the kilogramme of the fish I take to the owner, and this is an extra cost that tells on my business.”
High cost of fertilizer, feeds, discouraging women farmers
“Many women farmers are currently losing interest in agriculture because of the unbridled rise in the prices of feeds and fertilizer for livestock and crop farmers respectively,” said an aqua culture and poultry farmer, Mrs Oyetunde Oluwatosin.
Oluwatosin, who doubles as a feed miller, expressed concern over the rising cost and scarcity of the raw materials for producing feeds. According to her, “some of the materials are from other states, and bringing them to Lagos is a big challenge.
“Importers of materials for making feeds are also lamenting the high exchange rate. Even when they bring the goods, it is a problem to clear it at the port. When all these are factored into the cost of producing the feeds sold to farmers, the price goes up.
“At the end of the day, you will discover that all the profits you are supposed to make has been eaten up by the cost of feeds.
“And when you want to sell the produce, the middlemen would still dictate the price. They offer ridiculous price, and if you don’t sell from a circle, it will affect another circle.”
She also expressed frustration over a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) maize that she and her colleagues paid for but was not delivered until about two months after.
She said: “The maize we paid for when government wanted to intervene for farmers to bring down the cost of feeds was delivered about two months after. I had a shortage of about one ton from the 30 tons.
“We were expecting them to attend one of our fora so that we could show our displeasure about the development, but they didn’t come. When our group met, we discovered that every farmer that paid for it had various sums as shortages. I paid N4.8 million for it.”
Hannah, the crop farmer, was full of rage over the rate at which the price of fertilizer is rising.
She lamented: “Nobody subsidises the price of fertilizer for us. I buy at the prevailing price in the market and it affects production cost.
“A bag of fertilizer, which is supposed to be N5,000, is what the government gives out at between N8,0000 and N9, 000.”
Also corroborating her colleagues’ positions, Mrs. Aduke Akinde, a piggery and fishery farmer, expressed regrets that many women farmers have scaled down production over the current cost of feeds.
She said: “We go to the market like any other farmer to purchase them. While herders clash with farmers, the prices of everything have skyrocketed, compounding our challenges.
“Things have gone beyond our reach and majority of us are scaling our capacity down. A lot of our fish ponds are just empty. We are not rearing because we cannot cope with the cost of feeding.
“Last year, swine flu affected my piggery farm. Till date, I have not received any form of compensation.
“The Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture visited the farm and promised that they would do something for us.
“In other climes like Europe and all the rest, you know that swine flu is a viral disease that has no cure. “Presently across the world, its only ‘remedy’ is total destruction of all the pigs. So, the compensation for the farmers for their existing stock and next six months’ production is to ask them to leave the farm so that the ranch can rest.
“But what do we have here? Nothing,” she said.
“The attendant challenges in rising costs of feeds, “Omowumi Oluwayimika said, “is that it has a telling effect on the business and it is making many women farmers to quit.
“It makes farming not to be profitable again because the marketers will come and still insist on buying at the price we sold during the lockdown.
“So, we’re obviously running at a loss. The returns are very minimal.
“I know of some that left because they could no longer bear the costs and losing their investments at the same time.
“We know that in other countries the governments fund agriculture, give subventions and incentives. So, I will also be glad if our government can give us incentives here.”
Alhaja Mulikat Ogunlola of Yukawam Farms, Isolo, Lagos, blamed the exchange rate of the naira for the rising cost of feeds.
She said: “Most of the feeds we use are imported, so the cost has affected our business drastically. Also, many of our customers who used to buy in large quantities have reduced the quantities they buy due to high cost.
“In spite of these challenges, I have kept going. The feed that we use to take care of them is so expensive now that I cannot even meet up with feeding 5,000 fingerlings.”
She noted that the federal government has a lot to do in supporting women farmers, adding: “Production will be better and the living standard of many families will improve if women farmers get the needed support.
“If I have more funds, I will develop the part of the land that I am yet to put into use. I will be able to build a training hall for my trainees instead of training them in the sun.”
Farmers lament effects of climate change
Objective 6 of the Executive Summary of the NGPA is anchored on the need to mainstream gender into climate change, mitigating and adapting strategy for small holder farmers against the global emergency.
Laudable as the above sounds, many of the women are yet to benefit from it. As a matter of fact, today, many of them have helplessly watched as nature deals deadly blows on their investments.
For Hannah, flooding has remained a huge challenge on her farm.
She said: “We are very close to a river here, and when it rains, the farm gets flooded. Once this happens, whatever is on the farm is gone because the water level will be high. Then the flood washes whatever is on the farm away.
“In some areas that are dry, the farmers have the challenge of drought. But for us here, our problem is over-flooding. And now that the rains are not yet here, we always need to go to the river to source for water.
“And it is very strenuous plus it costs lots of money as we have to pay people to get the water for us, as our main produce is vegetable and it needs water almost every day.”
She suggested that the solution is having a permanent farmland where “we can design to suit our purposes. There is little or nothing we can do on someone else’s land because the owner also has a need for it. We need a permanent and accessible farmland and we would appreciate if the government can come and assist us.”
Climate change, use of crude implements compound woes
For Omowumi Oluwayinka, a fish farmer along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, climate change is biting really hard. The temperature of the ponds changes faster now that it is sunny than when the weather is cool. Climate change increases the mortality rate of the fishes. If I don’t change the water at a particular time, the soiling of the water will kill the fish. You know they live there in the water, eat here and also excrete there. If you don’t remove the water, they will be living in the waste.
“We are supposed to be seeing the rains regularly by now but they are not here. I have to change the water very often and that costs a lot too.
“Electricity supply is not regular. I have been running generator since 5am and it is past 10 already, and the ponds are yet to be filled.”
Sese Enterprises’ proprietress, Mrs. Aduke Akinde, whose farm deals in piggery and fishery, noted that climate change has caught up with the fishes in the wild.
She said: “You can see a lot of our fishermen in the ocean as well as in the river. The amount of fish they harvest fish has reduced drastically. The situation is aggravated by plastic pollution in the water everywhere and the high intensity of the sun.
“Even the ones we rear in micro environment, because we still have to expose the ting to the weather, it is affecting our productivity.
“The way out is, if there are resources to have a macro environment where things happening outside will not affect productivity.
“Concerning river and ocean pollution, the government should look into having the producers and the consumers to properly dispose them so that our water will no longer be polluted.”
Also sharing her experience, Mrs. Oyetunde Oluwatosin, an aqua culture and poultry farmer, said: “Climate change effects on poultry are palpable during droughts. Instead of using an insulated roofing sheet on your poultry, if you use the normal one, it absorbs more heat and it will be affecting the birds. And if your water supply is not very good, the farm can suffer a serious disaster.
“When the rainy season is about to start, the PH level of water changes because it fluctuates due to photosynthesis and respiration. So, if you are not careful, you will have PH problem, especially when we first take the small fingerlings to stock the farm.
“If you are not careful, you might lose everything you have laboured for.”
Access to loans remains big challenge
For many women farmers, inability to access loans to boost production remains a big challenge. Some of them said they had at several times applied for government loans without a response.
“I don’t also get any support from the government. It is only when they want to collect farmers’ information that we know and nothing more thereafter. “Everything I am using on the farm came through self-help and my cooperatives,” Oyetunde Oluwatosin said, adding: “I have gone through a lot of NIRSAL programmes and till now, I have not been granted any loan. I don’t know why.
“We have gone as far to CBN for interview but we have not seen anything. I don’t know the criteria they are using to give the loans.”
Besides her unsuccessful attempts to get loans from government-owned banks, Oluwatosin said her efforts to also get credit through commercial banks had also met a brickwall.
She said: “I have gone to some micro finance banks for loans, but what they are asking is too outrageous. It is only those who want to enslave themselves that can take such loans.
“But through our cooperative societies, we have been able to get loans. We contribute and take loans and thrifts among ourselves.
“I have more than a plot of land, which I should have used to expand my business, but I don’t have the resources to do so. If the government can help somebody like me who has keen interest in what I am doing, definitely, I will expand the business.
If we are assisted, we can provide employ ment for many young people working around the streets. If my farm is extended to that canal, it is going to be wonderful because I will be able to expand my poultry and fish farming and employ more people.”
Hannah said she had also not benefitted from any government loan.
She said: “At the time I heard about the NIRSAL loan, I was no longer having access to my farm, so I was not really inspired to go for it.
“I haven’t received any seedlings from the government either. The fact that I am still young in the business may be why I have not been getting such.”
Farmers who were fortunate to have received loans told our reporter how these had helped them to expand their business and how well they would do better if they have more support.
Alhaja Mulikat Ogunlola is a beneficiary of different loans and trainings. Her success story shows how well many women farmers would do if they have similar support.
“I have been supported by both the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government,” she said.
“We have got support from even the Central Bank of Nigeria, and that is what has helped me to expand to this level.
“The soft loans have added value to my fish processing and that is where my strength is. I empower women and youths.
“Aside from loans, I have also received training opportunities from the government. I have received training on record keeping, fish processing and packaging to meet export standard.
“We have been assisted with feeds and recently we got Smoking King from the CBN to dry our fish. Loans help my business to grow. It helps me to expand and meet the demands of the supermarkets that we supply.”
‘Only few women accessed NIRSAL loans’
Mrs. Aduke Akinde, who has also benefitted from NIRSAL loan, said: “The Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture last year gave us corn as palliatives. And each time they do annual agric celebration, they do remember us.
“Action Aid gave us training. ABE also comes to our aid with training. But we are still asking for them to do more.”
On her part, Mrs. Oluwayimika said that loans are very good. “But I am one of the very few that accessed the CBN/NIRSAL loan. But then, it is very, very difficult to run the loan from what we get. The interest is okay, but the returns from the business are not encouraging.
“During the lockdown last year, we stocked so much but there were no buyers. When they eventually came, they were pricing things down. And you can’t keep the fishes here. If you do, they would die at some stage. I lost about a quarter of my stock during the lockdown.”
The business, she added, is capital intensive, “and when you put in so much money and the returns are not encouraging, it kills morale. We service the loans with all that we get from here and even more. You have to get money from other means to help in paying back the loans.”
“The cost of running the farm now is higher than what it was during the lockdown. The feeds that I used to buy for N7, 000 is now N12, 000, and I am still expected to sell at the same price I sold at that time. How will I meet up paying back the loans?
Worries over budgetary allocations to women farmers
Budgetary allocations to the agriculture sector in the country over the years have always remained a cause for concern, especially for women farmers, who have often been at the receiving end of poor allocations.
With N415,173,648,008 as the total capital budget for agriculture for the period between 2015 and 2019, only the sum of N19,496,855,854 representing about 4.69% was allocated to women farmers.
Checks revealed that most allocation to women farmers during the period under review was lumped together with those of the youths, making it difficult for women farmers to lay hold completely on these funds.
With an average actual capital released rate of 70.33% for the four years of available data (2015-2018) it implies that a substantial proportion of these allocated sums were never released.
One of the farmers, Mrs Akinde, blamed the development on exclusion of women farmers from decision making.
“You know most of the time it is men that sit down at the decision table. We want women to be included in decision making. We seriously pray that they will walk the talk,” she said.
Federal Ministry of Agriculture officials dodge questions
Efforts made to speak with officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture on how they have been implementing the NGPA were unsuccessful as the officials approached were not willing to cooperate.
When our correspondent contacted the spokesperson of the ministry, Ikem, Ezeaja, he directed him to a director in the ministry. And when the reporter called the director, Theodore Ogaziechi, rather than answer the questions thrown to him, he directed him to his newspaper’s Agriculture correspondent.
He said: “Why not talk to your reporter that covers us? Your reporter has a deluge of information from here. Your reporter attended the last event we had, which was quite massive. It was strictly for Small Holder Women Framers. I am sure your reporter will have a deluge of information”, Ogaziechi said.
When the reporter told him the correspondent cannot speak for the ministry, he replied: “You have an agric correspondent. She is in the better position to give you the information you are looking for. She will give you visuals. She will give you everything.
“I am at NTA now trying to sort out an issue that arose. That is why I am not in a situation to talk now.
Asked if the interview could hold on another day since he was not in a place where he could speak, he responded: “Please, please I have a technical director who is in charge of that. She is the one that is technically involved in it.”
He requested that the reporter should reach out to the technical director for comments.
When the reporter called the ministry’s spokesman to inform him of the development and get the contact of the technical director, he said he could not hear the reporter and requested that a text message should be sent to him to that effect.
He was yet to respond to the text message at the time of filing this report.
It was later found that the newspaper’s Agriculture correspondent was not in possession of the document the director asked this reporter to obtain from her.
Speaking recently during an empowerment programme for 7, 500 smallholder women farmers in the North- Central states, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, said he had deliberately undertaken initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality and empowerment of women “in line with the targets set in our Economic Sustainability Plan, Agric Gender Policy, National Gender Action Plan (N-GAP) for Agriculture, Agricultural Sector Food Security and Nutrition Strategy Documents aimed at ensuring increased opportunities for women.
He further noted that the ministry and its research institutions were working towards making Nigeria self-sufficient in good quality seed and its availability to farmers as a foundation for attaining food and nutrition security as well as industrialisation.
“We are making concerted efforts to improve rural infrastructure such as rural roads, boreholes, irrigation facilities, solar lights, markets etc that are enablers for improved agricultural performance for our farmers and processors active in the rural space.
“Other value-chains supports are also advanced that would invariably contribute to the attainment of Mr President’s desire to ensure easy access to quality food and nutrition by Nigerians and also achieve the support for women empowerment which is key to having a stable household.”
For many smallholder women farmers in Lagos State who spoke to our reporter, they are yet to feel the impact of these support initiatives.
This report was made possible with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP) sponsored by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.