Smallholder farmers recount tales of woes during lockdown
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Smallholder farmers in Nigeria, majority of who are women, produce the bulk of the food that the nation feeds on. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on their business just as its effects are felt in other sectors of the economy. Some smallholder women farmers in Niger State recount the harrowing experiences they face because of the impact of the pandemic. JUSTINA ASISHANA, with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP), reports.
“THIS year, I am experiencing hard times. I do not have any sprayer to use on the farm, all my sprayers have spoilt. I also do not have fertiliser or any chemical to spray on my farm. I am experiencing these challenges because there is no money to buy these things,” Dorothy Uchenna, a smallholder farmer in Niger State, told The Nation.
Dorothy is not alone in this ugly situation. Every other smallholder farmer in Niger State is facing it. They have been unable to sell their farm produce because of the ban on inter-state movement. Currently, hundreds of bags of farm produce are waiting to be off-bundled in the state because the restriction of movement has led to the unavailability of buyers for these products.
As part of Nigeria’s effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari enacted the COVID-19 Regulation 2020, which, among other measures, imposed significant restrictions on the movement of people and goods in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Other states across the country also restricted movements into their respective territories from neighbouring states. The move made it impossible for traders to travel to other states to buy goods and render services.
Smallholder women farmers are the worse hit by this as the majority of them are currently finding it difficult to begin this year’s cultivation of yam, soya beans, maize, rice and melon; despite the exemption of vehicles conveying food and other essential materials from the restriction. Customers of these farmers are finding it difficult to beat the inter-state ban to travel to other states.
Data got from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Food Prices Watch revealed that there is a reduction in food prices, especially in yam while maize and rice showed a little rise in price. The price of some food not captured by the NBS has also gone up.
According to NBS data, in March last year, local rice was sold for N244 per kilogram and yam was sold for N197. But in March, this year, local rice was sold for N216 and yam was sold N150; last year April, rice was sold for N278 and yam for N194 per kilogram, in April this year, rice was sold for N293 and yam was sold for N124 per kilogram.
While in May last year, rice was sold for 287 and yam for N205 while in May this year, rice was sold for N289 and yam for N161.
In March last year, maize was sold for N83 per kilogram but in March this year, it was at N116; in April last year, maize was N124 but in April this year, maize was N106 while in May last year, maize was sold for N85 and in May this year, maize was sold ar N112 per kilogram.
Despite these prices, the farmers claim they are keeping their goods until the price is favourable and their customers from outside the state are allowed to come in and buy the goods from them at the prices they feel would be reasonable for them to benefit from the labour on the farm.
No farming due to lack of money – Dorothy Uchenna
The modus operandi of Dorothy Uchenna, who has a farm comprising yam, maize, millet and melon in Chachanga Local Government Area of Niger State, is to sell her produce and use part of the money for the new planting season whereby she can get input, pay the labourers she engages and others. But this year is different as she has not been able to sell her crops.
“We are still considering how to go about farming this year. This year, we are not planting much. The produce that we brought into this year that we are supposed to sell out such as melon, which we used to sell for N100,000 a bag is now N50,000. The difference is much and the market is just like that this year. We are managing to sell it out because if we don’t, the new ones that will be harvested this month will affect the sale of the old ones.”
Madam Larry, who is a yam, maize and soya-beans farmer in Paikoro Local Government Area of Niger State. She said most of the prices of products have fallen drastically, which is why she cannot sell her crops at this time as she is not ready to face the loss.
Mariam Musa whose farm is also in Chachanga Local Government Area of Niger State has bags of soya-beans, groundnut and maize, which she cannot sell because of lack of customers and fall in the prices of the crops.
Mariam, who said she has no money to pay labourers this year, makes use of her children in farming. When The Nation visited her farm, three of her children were helping her to plant maize.
“Right now, I have 10 bags each of groundnut, soya-beans and maize and I sell per measure. I have not tried to sell it because I heard people saying all the prices have fallen and there is no market at all.”
‘We are set for loss this period’
The women farmers in Bida axis are not immune to the challenge of selling off their crops as they are faced with the same challenge. Millicent Yisa and her husband in Enagi Local Government Area of Niger State have about 150 bags of beans, melon, guinea corn, soya-beans and rice in storage.
“Today, I had to beg someone to buy the groundnut off my hands so that they will not spoil because they are already infested. This year, we are selling our farm produce at lower prices.,” she said.
An expert in Rural Agricultural Development, Professor Kola Adebayo of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, said the reason for the gap in the storage of food and the prices of food products is a signal of the failure of government in taking proactive steps of engaging the farmers, especially after the production of their farm produce.
The Director, Planning, Research and Statistics of the Niger State Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhassan Umar, said it is the Federal Government that is responsible for the strategic grain reserves and not the state government, adding that although there is a grain reserve in Niger State, it is, however, under the responsibility of the Federal Government.
He said the state government has a Buffer Stock programme where they buy excess grains from farmers after each farming season and sell to the people at a subsidised rate.
Millicent Yisa and her husband have decided to pull resources and invest heavily in upland rice which they believe would help them cushion the loss they will face on other crops.
‘Dipping Egusi prices a nightmare ‘
For Ruth Illiya, maize, guinea corn, Egusi and soya beans farmer in Gurara Local Government Area of Niger State, the falling price of egusi is something farmers in the state have never experienced in the past.
“Imagine egusi that is usually sold for N500 for unpeeled and N1000 for peeled ones per mudu at this time of the year is now being sold at N150 for unpeeled and N400 for peeled ones. The price has fallen probably because people are no longer coming from outside the state to patronise us. We will face serious loss if we sell it now, that is why we are storing the produce,” she said.
Illiya added that although she has some farm produce at home, money is still needed to get additional items and essentials for the home.
‘Our members are suffering’
The effects of the lockdown and restriction of movement on businesses prompted the Federal Government to introduce fiscal and economic stimulus measures to ameliorate the impact on businesses and save the economy from total collapse.
However, being women and mostly the breadwinners for their families, smallholder women farmers are expected to be beneficiaries of both the food that is being distributed to households as palliatives as well as the Conditional Cash Transfer, particularly, the additional one million households ordered by the President to be included in the National Social Register.
But the majority of the smallholder women farmers in Niger State said they did not receive any palliatives either from the state or Federal Governments. Neither did they receive any money from the conditional cash transfer initiated by the Federal Government.
The Niger State Coordinator of the Small Scale Women Farmers’ Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON), Grace Disa, confirmed that none of her members received any stimulus package.
The SWOFON Coordinator appealed to the Niger State government to also consider women during this farming season.
The majority of the smallholder women farmers in Niger State are not aware of the farmermoni while they said the conditions to get loans from Bank of Agriculture, NISRAL or Bank of Industry are usually cumbersome.