By Justina ASISHANA
PLANS to stave off hunger in Niger State by increasing crop yields are in jeopardy as the hectares of land used in planting across the state are gradually losing nutrients due to the inability of farmers to replenish the soil. Justina Asishana speaks with smallholder women farmers in the state regarding their challenges in assessing inputs, including fertiliser, to improve their yield.
Amina Garba has been farming groundnut and yam in Tayi B in Bosso Local Government Area of Niger State for over 20 years. But in all these years, she has not got any form of fertilizer, either for free or at a subsidized rate from the Niger State government.
Her yearly yield is thus very poor as she makes barely half of the expectation she aims to meet, a reason she attributes to lack of fertilizer and other inputs used in farming.
“Our lands are old and tired. Every year, we farm on these lands and we do not have fertilizers or other chemicals to put into the land to make it fertile and healthy. We have not got any fertilizer from the government. Even the one said to be at a reduced rate, we do not get it. And we do not have money to buy fertilizer because of how high it costs,” Garba says.
Fertilizers are substances that add nutrients to the soil to promote soil fertility and increase plant growth. The three most important fertilizers include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The latter two have been available for centuries, but getting nitrogen in a form that plants could absorb is scarce, and the lack of nitrogen has led to low crop yields for centuries.
Fertilizers replace the nutrients that crops remove from the soil. Without the addition of fertilizers, crop yields and agricultural productivity would be significantly reduced. To grow healthy crops full of nutrients, farmers need to ensure they have healthy soil.
Without fertilizers, nature struggles to replenish the nutrients in the soil. When crops are harvested, important nutrients are removed from the soil, because they follow the crop and end up at the dinner table. If the soil is not replenished with nutrients through fertilizing, crop yields will deteriorate over time.
The International Fertilizer Association (IFA) estimates that 85 per cent of the soils globally are deficient in nitrogen, 73 per cent are deficient in phosphorus, while 55 per cent lack potassium.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger and starvation have long been a threat, lack of fertilizer is a primary reason agricultural yields lag the rest of the world, especially as the combination of high prices and shortages forces some farmers to revert to older methods of fertilization.
Amina is not alone in the difficulty women farmers face to get fertilizers across the state despite the huge sum of money budgeted and expended for fertilizer procurement and distribution in Niger State.
In Bosso Local Government Area, Rose Joseph explains that whilst groundnut does not need much fertilizer, yam does. She also bewails to the reporter how her yams, when harvested, come out below the average size. This does not allow her to sell at a price she can make a profit.
“Last year, I did 500 heaps of yams but could only get back 300 heaps of good yams, making me lose 200 heaps. The yam got spoilt because there was no fertilizer. We do not get fertilizer here because the government does not give it to us and we do not have money to buy it. What we do when we plant is that we just put our seeds on the ground and hope it comes out good.”
She says that because of poor yield, she cannot send her child to a good school inside the city because her husband is also a farmer and they face the same difficulty in the farming business.
Rabiatu Abdulmalik, who is also in Bosso Local Government Area, says she has been farming for about 25 years, noting that their hectares of land have gone old as there is no fertilizer or money to buy fertilizer.
“We do but use fertilizer, we plant our crops like that. If we plant it, God will bring it out well for us.”
According to Rabiatu, she plants 10 mudus (measuring bowls) of groundnut seedlings she purchases in the market and harvests about 50 big bags, but she can get more if she has access to fertilizer.
Same moans of fertilizer woes everywhere
The story of Rabiatu, Amina and Rose is akin to the same of every other rural smallholder women farmer across Niger State.
In Rijau Local Government Area, a maize, rice and soya beans farmer of about 29 years Fatima Mu’azu says all through her years of farming, she has not benefitted from government-subsidised fertilizer.
According to her, farmers were promised an allocation of 500 bags of fertilizer last year by the state government but to date, they are yet to get any fertilizer from the state government.
“Last year, they gave us allocation paper of fertilizer where we saw that 500 bags of fertilizer was approved to us but till date, nothing has been done.”
She says that when she buys from the market, there is usually no gain at the end of the planting season as a bag of fertilizer in the market costs between N11,500 to N13,500. She further explains that when there are no resources to buy fertilizer, she gets cow dung from the cattle herders which she uses on the farm.
In the Ija Gwari community in Tafa Local Government Area, Hannatu Yisua, who is part of an all-women cooperative society that farms rice, beans and maize, says that she and other women farmers have not got any fertilizer or farm inputs from either the state or local government.
She shares the same sad tale as the other women farmers in the rural areas across the state concerning the lack of access to fertilizers.
“We have applied for fertilizers and other agricultural inputs several times in our local government area but they do not give us. For now, we use cow dung which we get from the cow herders. We do not have money to buy fertilizers because it is expensive and scarce to get in our local government.
“Our farm does not get the expected yield. Sometimes, we plant 50 mudus of rice and at the end of harvesting, we get like 10 sacks of rice. Each sack contains 50 mudus. If we have access to fertilizers and other inputs, we can expect like 100 bags of rice and also an increase in the other products we farm. Also, getting other inputs will help us prevent insects that infest on our products.”
Women farmers and Niger government differ on extension workers
In a research article titled, ‘Challenges and Prospects of Rural Women in Agricultural Production in Nigeria’ by JB Effiong, published in Lwati: A Journal of Contemporary Research, inadequate technology, poor extension services, inadequate land, lack of access to credit facilities, cultural/religious restrictions, poor health, lack of adequate infrastructure, access to education and training were identified as factors affecting women in agricultural production.
An important aspect of agricultural production is access to education and training, which is usually carried out by extension officers or agents. Extension service is an informal educational process directed toward the rural population, which offers advice and information to help them solve their problems.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), extension is a process of working with rural people to improve their livelihoods. This involves helping farmers to improve the productivity of their agriculture and also developing their abilities to direct their future development. The objective of farm extension is to change farmers’ outlook on issues affecting them.
Extension agents, therefore, are expected to discuss matters with the rural people, help them to gain a clearer insight into their problems and also to decide how to overcome these problems.
But this is not the case in Niger State, where despite over N579 million expended on the enhancement of extension service delivery from 2017 to 2019, the majority of the rural women farmers, with whom these extension workers are supposed to work with, have not seen or heard about extension services.
A farmer of rice, soybeans and yam in Ija Gwari community in Tafa Local Government Area Rebecca Yahaya says she has been farming for over 50 years and no one has come to train her or any other woman farmer she knows.
In Borgu, a rice processor and farmer Rabbi Suleiman says that apart from the IFAD Value Chain Development Programme that trained her and other women on rice processing, no other government or organisation has come to brush them up on any agricultural practice.
Women in Rijau, Bosso and Tafa have been using the knowledge gained from their parents to farm as they also have not received any training or consultant service from the local or state government.
“We have not received any training from the government or any organisation. The farming we do and the knowledge we are using is from the knowledge of what we learnt from our parents and grandparents. And we need training very seriously because we are facing a lot of challenges in farming and do not know how to go about solving these challenges,” SWOFON Coordinator in Rijau Talatu Galadima told the reporter.
For SWOFON Coordinator in Munya Local Government Area Asabe Mathew, the only training women get is when they call someone from the state capital to train members of their cooperative society on some challenges they face.
She also says that her cooperative society has benefitted from training by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) after which the person sent for the training returns to transmit the knowledge to the people.
“But receiving training from the state government or local government, we have not seen anyone. I know about extension workers and what they do but in our local government area, no one has come to us willingly to give us advice or train us on anything.”
But the claims of the women were refuted by the Head of Women in Agriculture, which is under the Niger State Agricultural and Mechanization Development Authority (NAMDA) Rose Saba, who insists that there are extension agents in the 25 local government areas of the state assisting and offering training to the farmers.
She notes that the women are probably not ready to work with the extension agents, which is why they claim they have not seen or got any training from them.
“We have extension agents across the 25 local government areas and they are there to assist and offer training to the rural women so that it will boost their farm produce. I don’t know why they say there is none. Maybe the women are not ready to be captured during the training, but we have extension agents that are around them and they are carrying them along.
“These agents visit them in their homes. Although they are not enough, they are trying their best. When you say the women say there are no extension agents, it is not true. The extension agents are reaching out to the rural women,” she insists.
Niger State government agricultural expenditure
The Niger State Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development Haliru Zakari Jikantoro, during a Radio Contact Programme on May 1, 2021, in Minna, highlighted the achievements and programmes’ implementation of the ministry from 2015 to 2021.
According to him, the ministry had procured and distributed 68,710 metric tonnes or 1,374,200 bags of fertilizer from 2015 to 2020.
Giving a breakdown, he said, ” the ministry procured and distributed 15,000 metric tonnes (300,000 bags) of NPK fertilizers in 2015, 4,710 metric tonnes (94,200 bags) of NPK fertilizer in 2016, 4,000 mt (80,000 bags) in 2017.
“Distribution of 15,000 metric tonnes (300,000 bags) of fertilizer in collaboration with TAK fertilizer company under the federal government fertilizer intervention programme in 2018, in 2019, 15,000 metric tonnes (300,000 bags) of fertilizer supplied to stores all over the state for the 2010 farming season under an arrangement between the state, Morris fertilizer plant, TAK and other private dealers.”
The commissioner added that a total of 15,000 metric tons of fertilizer, 437 metric tonnes of assorted seeds and 107,050 litres of assorted agrochemicals were made available through private input dealers at various stores across the state.
For 2021, the commissioner said that arrangements had been concluded with seven fertilizer producers, companies and distributors for the supply of fertilizer to all the stores across the state, noting that farmers would access it for the farming season. He stated that the input would be sold to farmers on cash and carry basis as the state government would not be subsidizing the cost of transportation to the stores.
In the Niger State budget from 2017 to 2019, it was discovered that the Ministry of Agriculture, through the Niger State Agricultural and Mechanization Development Authority (NAMDA), expended N579.078 million for the enhancement of extension service delivery. To this end, N37,000 was expended in 2017, N538.51 million was expended in 2018 while N40.5 million was expended in 2019 for extension service delivery.
When the Managing Director of NAMDA Suleiman Rijau was contacted, he said he was outside the state for a conference and would send the contact of one of his directors, but as of the time of filing this report, he was yet to send the contact and he stopped picking calls.
But Head of Women in Agriculture Rose Saba insists that the extension workers are doing their job and they are being monitored and supervised, stressing that there has not been any complaint about them or their services.
Giving more explanation about the difficulty in getting inputs for their farm, Saba explains that even the government finds it difficult to distribute inputs to the farmers as the resources are not available for now.
“But whenever there is little, we ensure that some of them get it. Some of the inputs can be bought from the market. That is why the extension workers are there so that they will be able to link the farmers with agro-dealers in the market where they can purchase it at a subsidised rate. Because for now, from the government, the inputs are not forthcoming.”
Smallholder women farmers Charter of Demands
Smallholder women farmers undertake agricultural activities that are tedious and hectic with crude farm implements like hoes and cutlasses. This has led to low productivity, health challenges and limited income for smallholder women farmers.
The farm equipment available to these women farmers is not gender-friendly and the alternatives that governments refer to in their speeches are heavy-duty and expensive tractors and similar equipment which are also not easy to access.
As a result, the Small Holder Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria (SWOFON), in its Charter of Demands identifies women-friendly farm equipment that can reduce drudgery and increase productivity.
The Charter of Demands also points out that in Niger State, 102,661 bags of fertilizer, which will cost about N564.635 million, will be needed annually for women farmers across the state.
There was no costing for other issues in the SWOFON Charter of Demands such as good road network, capacity building, extension services and access to soft loans because they are already ongoing government programmes. However, there is a need to streamline them and make them more gender-sensitive with possible quotas for access to soft loans and proper targeting of extension services.
We had deficit in fertilizer distribution – Niger Ministry of Agriculture
Efforts made to see the Commissioner of Agriculture proved abortive, but the reporter approached the Permanent Secretary in the ministry who directed her to the Director of Agricultural Services and Linkages – who is also the Desk Officer for Women Farmers in the state – Adamu Maikasua Garba.
Garba explains that the women farmers in 2020 were allocated fertilizers and other farm inputs but the state had a deficit in fertilizer, which is why a lot of women farmers could not get the input despite that they were allocated some.
“In 2020, allocation to assess fertilizers and other agricultural inputs were given to SWOFON but we had a deficit in fertilizer distribution because of the shortfall we had in the supply.
“While the women farmers were given allocation, some were able to assess theirs and some were not able to assess theirs because of the shortfall,” he explains.
Garba says that the ministry, in its 2021 budget, has proposed to provide small work-friendly women equipment so that the women would have the opportunity to have easy farming for the season.
“This year, we have it in the budget to provide small working women equipment so that the women will have the opportunity to work on their farms using machinery.
“The equipment we have proposed include tillers, rice reapers and small irrigation pumps. The proposal has been made and we are working with local fabricators of the machines to make it available for this cropping season.”
Will the Economic Sustainability Plan help address the challenges of the women farmers?
For most of last year, COVID-19 pandemic worsened farming nationwide, leaving the majority of women farmers struggling to get back on their feet despite this year’s approaching planting season.
The Federal Government, through its Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), pledged increased palliatives for women farmers across the country to prop them back on their feet as well as help them cushion the unpleasant fiscal impact of the imposed lockdown.
In order to provide the promised financial assistance to farmers and businesses, the Federal Government adopted a combined stimulus package of about N3.5 trillion. The stimulus includes a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni, and FarmerMoni loans, a Targeted Credit Facility (TCF) of N50 billion to businesses affected by the pandemic, an N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund, amongst others.
One of the projects under the Economic Sustainability Plan focused on agriculture is the ‘Mass Agricultural Programme,’ which was conceived to boost the entire agricultural value chain with N634.98 billion, estimated to be ploughed into the project.
The programme is expected to bring between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every state of the federation through a multi-layered approach, and the smallholder farmers are expected to receive support directly or through out-grower schemes.
The support would involve services and inputs, including land clearing, ploughing, provision of seeds, saplings, fertilizers, pesticides, as well as extension services, storage to mitigate post-harvest losses and equipment. Farmers are also expected to be linked to low-interest input financing.
Unfortunately, the plan does not specifically indicate how smallholder farmers, particularly the women, will benefit from the programme, neither did it factor in projects that will involve the introduction of technology to aid production and output.
Another palliative measure that would have favoured the women farmers was the re-introduction of the Conditional Cash Transfer, but the majority of the women smallholder farmers did not benefit from this.
Several of the women say they have not heard of anything about the mass agricultural programme by the Federal Government, neither have they benefitted from any of the programmes.
The farming season is here and the women farmers would require farm inputs such as fertilisers, agrochemicals, and improved seeds to make farming easier for them and enable them to have improved yield. They are still in the dark on how these salient needs would be available.
Yet, the women farmers remain united in asserting that with the land being tired, fertilisers will go a long way to help them get a good yield in the 2021 farming season.
Hence, they are requesting the timely release of fertilizers and other agricultural inputs that are most needed.
*This report was done with the support of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and the International Centre for Investigative reporting, (ICIR).