Smallholder women farmers still frustrated over promise of palliatives that remain a pipe dream

By Our Reporters


THEY prepared borrowed money and materials to invest in efforts at getting a bountiful harvest in the year 2020. Many of them, apparently encouraged by the experience of the past few years, did not want to waste the opportunity offered by the times. But before the end of the first quarter of the year a pandemic, not seen in recent history, happened in the world and sent everybody scampering for cover.

They meant to feed the nation, but the impact of the pandemic brought untold hardship, making it almost impossible for them to feed their own families.

This is the story of female smallholder farmers in Nigeria who are singing dirges when they are supposed to be dancing to the banks.

The farmers have never had it so bad. From Lagos to Nasarawa; Anambra to Niger State the narrative is total devastation of the efforts meant to assist in realising the goal of food security. The challenge was like a raging flood, with scores swept off their feet, while the government buried its head in the sand. Only a negligible percentage of the over five hundred thousand of the women, members of the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation, SWOFON, have had a taste of official support. There are those in that little percentage who now wish they had not ventured into plucking the advantage that the government dangled before them.

The consequence is that the poverty they had struggled to put behind them roared back, while the dignity and hope restored have been swept away. For scores of the smallholder women farmers in Nigeria, there is a fresh confrontation with hunger, that old ally they thought had been shaken off.

In the aftermath of the COVID 19 induced lockdown, The ICIR, with the support of the International Budget Partnership, IBP, sent out investigative reporters to seven states of Anambra, Niger, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Lagos, Oyo and the FCT to see how these women farmers were faring.

The reporters, who covered 35 local government areas, were drawn from several newsrooms, including the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, The Nation, Nigerian Tribune, Plus TV, Daily Trust and Nasarawa Broadcasting Service, NBS. Their briefs were to find out how the farmers fared, during the lockdown occasioned by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. They were also to determine whether farmers, particularly the smallholder farmers got financial supports for them to function optimally in the bid to contribute to efforts at ensuring food security in the country. Did they get assistance in the area of provision of modern farming implements or fertilizer and chemicals or insecticides to combat pests?  What they came out with are stories of lamentation by the farmers, and fears of food crisis in the aftermath of Covid-19.

The lockdown did a lot of damage to farming business. First, some farmers could not access their farms, particularly those whose farms are located far away from their homes. Not only that,  they could not also move farm produce to consumers, as there was restriction of inter-state movement, and where transporters and customers ventured to take advantage of the exemption granted farmers and traders of agricultural products and implements, they could not endure the extortion by security agents deployed to enforce the restriction order by federal and state governments.

A smallholder Women Farmer in Awe LGA, Nasarawa State.

Even more damning was the disappearing market. The traditional markets were closed, while institutions and businesses that patronize the farmers were shut down and, therefore, could not purchase the produce even if they were taken there. Hajiya Fatima Dahir Auyo, from Auyo in Jigawa State did not even have the luxury of getting produce to take to any consumer. This is because “We have been thrown into the most difficult and worst situation of the COVID-19 pandemic which stopped us from going to the farm.

It was a good opportunity for the Fulani herdsmen to graze everywhere, including the farmlands.” The plight of the smallholder farmers in Jigawa was summed by the chairperson of SWOFON in the state, Hajiya Hadiza Abdussalam Giwa, “The closure of markets and restriction of movement due to the coronavirus pandemic has made it very difficult for women farmers to source animal feeds and other materials needed for dry season farming”. If anyone thought that was such a terrible experience, then he should listen to Hajiya Hauwa Akamu Rijiya Bakwai, farmers’ coordinator in Birnikudu local government area of the state, “the situation we found ourselves under the lockdown is very worrisome because most of my members have eaten all their capital while sitting at home under lockdown.”

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But a more pathetic story is that of Malama Binta Audu Gamasarka, a widow with five children. She had celebrated the change in the economy of the family when the Covid-19 lockdown suddenly reversed the gains she had made after the state government gave her financial support. She said of the change, “After I received an empowerment grant from the Jigawa State government and another agricultural empowerment grant I decided to start using the land we inherited from my husband.

I ventured into rice farming. I have the state government to thank for this change in my family”. For Binta the new song, post lockdown, is a farm that is not doing well, because the lockdown prevented her from taking care of the farm, nor could she get fertiliser for her rice farm. In Nasarawa, women share stories of dryness on the farm, how the lockdown accentuated the scarcity of resources thus making it difficult for farmers to procure fertilisers among other necessary things for the crops to develop well.

Away from Nasarawa, there is a peculiar narrative in neighbouring Niger State where smallholder women farmers are running away from the farm for fear of being kidnapped, killed or raped. Mrs. Mary Hamzanda, the Niger State Coordinator of SWOFON said apart from the challenge of farm tools and chemicals due to lack of resources, the issue of security has posed a serious problem that women had to restrict their movement. She said, “The bandits also rape women and sometimes kill their victims when the ransom is not paid”.

 

Perhaps in the absence of government assistance to arrest the security situation the women had to stay away from trouble. Hamzanda reasoned that “Instead of you to challenge Fulani herdsmen, you run for your dear life. If you question them, you may be attacked”. Thus, farmers there have to live with the pain of having herdsmen run over their farmland for the purpose of grazing their cattle at the expense of the farmers.

Where the herdsmen are not on rampage , the pandemic drove a knife through the hearts of the farmers. Mrs Funmilayo Olaniran, 50, a smallholder farmer in Igboora, Oyo State said six of them came together and formed a unit of SWOFON in the area. But the pandemic did them a fatal blow. Hear her:

“We plant maize, cassava and melon on five hectares of land, but the effect of COVID-19 has had a negative impact on our business.

Smallholder women farmers at Ibadan South West LGA, Oyo State inspecting the damage done to their plants due to lockdown occasioned by COVID-19

“The lockdown occasioned by the virus prevented inter-state travel, meaning our produce could not be transported to where it would be sold.”

Mrs. Chinasa Asonye, coordinator of the Lagos State chapter of SWOFON, who is a fish farmer also painted a gloomy picture of the period.

According to her, “Before the lockdown, I had stocked these ponds here at Maya and those in Ijebu. I had about three ponds, filled with fish, which I wanted to sell before the lockdown. We had buses that used to come and buy from us. They used to buy as much as 1.2 tons, 2 tons and so on, depending on the number of buses coming to buy.”

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The buses never showed up.

But the restriction did more than preventing them from accessing the farms or allowing customers to reach them. It also frozen business of some other customers to whom they would take produce, particularly in the cities.  The hotels, restaurants and eateries that form the major markets for the produce were also under lockdown.  So Asonye’s seven tons of fish, as she put it, got “stuck in the ponds”. Little wonder that she said in an emotion-laden voice, “We are locked down with our fish”.

It was truly a lockdown. For farmers who had planned to increase production in order to be able to meet the demand created by the school feeding programme, shutting down the schools from March was capable of causing a heart attack. Yet that was not the only problem caused by the Covid-19 – induced lockdown. There was also the attendant stress of how to tender the crops on the farm when you can access them. Adijat Olayinka, 33, said, “the labourers, who come to work for us from all over, including Togolese, are unable to come. They are prevented from entering Nigeria to work on our farms. This has brought a set back to our business.”

For the few labourers they got they could also not pay their charges, so they devised a way out of the crisis.

“We tried to reduce the cost of labour by slashing down on the amount we give to labourers, but they refused to accept this reduction. Their reason for refusing to collect pay cuts is that prices of food items have increased with other things they need to take care of in their homes’’

Mrs. Jolaoye Mujidat, 45, a smallholder woman farmer at Iyana Offa in the Lagelu local government area of Oyo State said though “We do the labour work instead of contracting it out due to paucity of funds”, that limited the extent of work that could be done.  Even the little that they did ended up with losses, because “In the planting season due to the downturn in our income we are unable to expand our farm; although there is enough land to farm on, no money to farm on the existing land.”

Their headache is compounded by the absence of modern farm implements. That is why Mrs. Olayiwola Bridget appeals that the authorities should provide them with the necessary things to make farming easy. She said, “We want the government to give us tractors, we need pesticides to spray on our crops as they are being ravaged by insects.” In the course of the lockdown, farmers who could not access their farms also said the farmlands were over-ran by herdsmen who then had a field day, while farmers lament the effect of the lockdown.

This was one challenge that farmers in Nasarawa state and the FCT had to contend with. The pathetic story of Asibi Gade, a widow and mother of two is a case in point. The woman and others in her group of women farmers are living in fear because of the impunity of herdsmen in the Kwali Area Council in the FCT. Gade who said that her group rents land for farming at N10,000 per hectare had an attack on their farmlands recently by the herdsmen, at a time they were preparing for harvest.

smallholder women farmers

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Hear her: “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,” The so-called compensation cannot pay for the rent nor will it compensate for what had been spent planting and weeding.

So, they ran at a great loss! Where they get support in the area of farm inputs, the issue of insecurity makes their efforts come to nothing at the FCT .  Zakaria Aliyu, director of information and communication, Agriculture and Rural Development, FCT, said the council always gives support to farmers every planting season. According to him, the local authority gives seedlings, fertiliser, insecticides, poultry feeds, fish feeds, all at 50% subsidy. He said 9,000 farmers benefitted last year, which represents 3,000 above those of  the previous year.

But the authorities appear handicapped dealing with the issue of attacks on the same farms they help to tend by the herdsmen. Now, this year, because of the Covid-19 lockdown, the authorities could not give any support to the farmers.  Mrs. Comfort Sunday who confirmed that SWOFON members got fertiliser and other farm inputs from the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), also added that the activities of herdsmen is a major concern.

According to her, a couple that confronted herdsmen grazing cattle on the farms was almost killed, but for the people who rescued them while they were being beaten by the invading herdsmen. Ogechi Okebugwu, coordinator of SWOFON in FCT said the area parades 13,000 members, but attacks by herdsmen are more or less a way of life.

The reporters found out that the smallholder women farmers’ experiences differed according to their location and the type of crop they plant. For instance, Madam Oluwatoyin Odofin, a fish farmer at the Ejigbo area of Lagos, she was caught between the devil and the deep sea. She could not sell her fish and at the same time had to keep feeding them, else they would die. Whatever she did, she was bound to lose.

“We are cash-strapped. The fishes have been eating and getting bigger. That is a huge problem for us.” Odofin deals in hatchery, but she had to watch helplessly as the fingerlings, which she ought to have sold months ago, grew into bigger fishes because of the lockdown. The fish farmers who usually bought fingerlings from her had been affected by the lockdown and were she to stop feeding the fishes, she would have lost all her investment.

“The feeds for fingerlings are more expensive than the ones for bigger fishes. If you don’t feed them very well, they will start eating each other, and that will bring about a bigger loss,” she stated.

Even at that, she was bothered about the rising cost of feeds and other factors of production. This challenge and the fear of the unknown have threatened the progress of production in the country.

For instance, Mrs. Asonye who also has a rice mill in Ikorodu had to suspend operation, because, according to her, she had unclaimed rice in her mill, again due to the lockdown.

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“I process for farmers around Ikorodu axis. The fear of this Covid-19 made me to stop them from bringing rice,” she told our reporter.

She is lucky that her mill did not break down like that of the gari-processing machine owned by Stella Onuchukwu of Ufuma in the Orumba North local government area of Anambra State.

Nigeria COVID-19 farmers
Mrs. Okafor Chika busy with her garri processing machine at Alor, Idemili South Local government area of Anambra state

Onuchukwu told our reporter, “During the time they said we should stay at home, our machine broke down and we did not have the money to repair it. Even when we succeeded in raising the money, the next challenge was how to get somebody to come and carry out the repairs. For days, economic activities at the mill were stalled until we finally got somebody who came all the way from Onitsha to Ufuma here to repair. And even for that person to get here was a tug of war”. She and her colleagues in the area cultivate cassava and undertake gari processing.

Her experience is similar to that of Mrs. Motunrayo Ajagbe, another smallholder farmer at the Oluyole Local Government Area of Oyo State who said, “ We are unable to move freely to go to where our farm is located because the farm is far from where we live — about a two-hour walk. Due to this, many of our plants were destroyed, many of the crops dried off even as climate change affected farming this year because the rain didn’t fall as expected.” Were there no lockdown aimed at containing Covid-19, the farmers would have found a way around the issue of weather.

For, according to her, “we have our own method which is irrigation but were unable to apply water to the crops to make them grow because there was no movement. We were unable to prepare the vegetables in the nursery bed and then transfer them to the field as well as do other necessary things to keep the plant healthy and ensure growth. This has caused damage to the crops’’.

The challenge they face now is how to plant in the new season. Monica Igbokwe, leader of the smallholder women farmers in Nnewi local government area of Anambra state relates the experience in her area. Igbokwe, who plants cassava and yam, said getting seedlings to plant is another big challenge for her and her colleagues.

“The stems I got for N500 last year were sold for one thousand N1,500. If I could buy fifty bundles last year, this coronavirus had made it that I should buy only ten. I cannot even travel to where I go to get some input.”

The consequence is a record of huge losses by the tribe of farmers, a development that signals a food crisis. This is because according to Hajiya Aishatu Ahmed, coordinator of Farmers Cooperative in Kontagora local government area of Niger State, “There may be hunger next year if the COVID-19 is not tackled because our families are at home eating what we produced last season. The free movement allowed by the government is not enough to provide our family needs and also attend to our farms properly.”

She was speaking from the knowledge of the cases she has seen. This is more troubling because more men are losing their jobs and women have to assist their husbands, particularly at a time when children eat much more than usual because they are at home.

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Though the lockdown has been eased, it left in its trail a micro-economy that leaves the smallholder farmer, among others, counting her losses. Mrs. Dorothy Unchenna and Mariam Musa, both of Chachanga local government areas of Niger State lament that they lost the luxury of having enough to sell for profit so they can take some to re-invest in the farm. Hear Uchenna: “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.”

In fact, it has got to the stage that to even get buyers is a challenge. Mrs. Millicent Yisa and her husband have a stock of 150 bags of beans, melon, guinea corn, soya beans and rice. They are not hoarding, the customers are not just coming unlike in the past. She, however, said, “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.” So, the chorus, echoed by their compatriot, Madam Larry who is based in the Paikoro local government area of the state, is that there is no excitement to invest much in farming business this year. So, it is not hard to know why they are that crossed. The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS confirms that prices of food have fallen drastically when compared with the previous year.

Fifty-five-year old Mrs. Motunrayo Ajagbe, paints the picture succinctly.

“We have incurred more than 70 percent revenue loss due to COVID-19 pandemic.”  They leave under the fear that the produce they have will go bad because there is no storage facility, neither is the state too willing to take the grains off them for preservation. In Niger state, officials push that responsibility to the federal government, which is often so distant from the people it can hardly feel their pains. Alhassan Umar, Director, Planning, Research and Statistics, Niger State Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said though there is a grain reserve in the state, it is run by the federal government. The only thing the state could do, according to him, is buying some of the produce of farmers and sell. Professor Kola Adebayo of the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State faults the government for the gap between the prices of food and storage facilities.

Now, not being able to sell produce will definitely diminish liquidity for them. And that signals another problem, which is getting money to pay back the loans they took to do the farming in the first instance.  They are afraid that creditors will come after them soon. Mrs. Mariam Adegoke, a 35-year-old farmer said, “The little amount we gathered was from microfinance bank. This loan will affect us because we are to repay it in time.”

So, what happened to all the stimulus measures announced by the federal government and its agencies? Most of the smallholder women farmers that our reporters spoke to in the seven states visited said they had received no economic stimulus aid from the government.

For example, Mrs. Eunice Nduka in Atani, Ogbaru Local Government Area in Anambra State insisted that she did not get any support from the government. Though she said there had been government agents who visited to register them, they were yet to get any financial support nor did they get any relief material to ameliorate the impact of the lockdown on them.

She said, “People have been coming to us to register. We have been writing our names but to no avail. I haven’t received anything, but I am pleading to the government so that they will come to my rescue.” In that regard the federal government raised the hope of scores of Nigerians who felt that if nothing substantial was not done, the effect of the lockdown may create a great impact that will be difficult to shake off.

On April 13, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari announced some stimulus packages to ensure that the effect of Covid-19 did not create a permanent scar in Nigeria.  Apart from granting a tax holiday and three months moratorium on repayment of loans or grants from government institutions, the federal government also announced some stimulus packages designed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy and the people. Then concerned that the pandemic was taking its toll on the world and thus would have increased the level of poverty, the president ordered that the relief package “be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households” within two weeks of the broadcast. President Buhari also said, “To ensure our economy adapts to this new reality, I am directing the Ministers of Industry,

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Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a “Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19”.

In the same broadcast, the president directed “ the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice-Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertiliser Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimized”.

Following that directive, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muhammad Nanono, on April 26, inaugurated a joint technical task team on emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of collating materials for this report, Nigerians are yet to get a roadmap on how the committee intends to ease the pains of farmers.

The packages did raise the hope of farmers who saw the presidential broadcast as a stamp on an earlier announcement by Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed on April 6, 2020 that the government was setting up of a N500 billion COVID 19 Crisis Intervention Fund, which would draw from existing special funds and accounts.

Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, also announced packages aimed at preventing a collapse of the economy. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN which on March 17 announced a credit relief package of N50 billion (about $136.6M) to businesses affected by the pandemic drew up a policy framework covering immediate, medium and long – term measures.

The CBN guiding principles of its immediate policy response is as follows:

  • Ensure financial system stability by granting regulatory forbearance to banks to

restructure terms of facilities in affected sectors;

  • Trigger banks and other financial institutions to roll-out business continuity processes to ensure that banking services are delivered in a safe social- distance regime for all customers and bankers;
  • Grant additional moratorium of 1 year on CBN intervention facilities
  • Reduce interest rates on intervention facilities from 9 percent to 5 percent
  • Create N50 billion targeted credit facility for affected households and SMEs
  • Strengthen the Loan-Deposit Ratio (LDR) policy, which is encouraging significant extra lending from banks
  • Improve FX supply to the CBN by directing all oil companies (international and domestic) and all related companies (oil service) to sell FX to CBN and no longer to the NNPC;
  • Provide additional N100b intervention in healthcare loans to pharmaceutical companies, healthcare practitioners intending to expand/build capacity;
  • Provide N1 trillion in loans to boost local manufacturing and production across critical sectors
  • Engender financial inclusion by ensuring the poor and vulnerable are able, by all means necessary, through banks, microfinance, community and non-bank financial institutions, to access financial services to meet their basic needs.

Did farmers get loans and packages? Akunyiba, Igbokwe and Onuchekwu said they did not receive any financial support or package to ease the impact of the lockdown.

Onuchekwu said: “Nothing and we have been applying for assistance. Even we applied not only to the federal but also the state government. Yet, nothing has been given to us”.  Akunyiba said, “We were only hearing it on radio and watching them saying these things on the television.” She suspects that the administrators of the stimulus package may not have been sincere with the process. Hear her: “We are the main farmers. All these politicians are political farmers. But they are the ones getting all forms of incentives. Putting the money, where there is no assurance of it yielding any good dividends of increased food production, is an error”.

That error portends grave danger.

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The danger is that though the authorities may have released money, putting it in the wrong hands would negate the objective of the stimulus package and put everybody at risk of food shortage.

Asonye said, “I have been hearing about the federal government’s farmer moni palliative, but none of such has come to Lagos State. If it has come into Lagos State, we would have keyed into it.

“The only one we are aware of is the CBN/NIRSAL Microfinance Bank which some of our farmers have benefited from.” She should know, being the coordinator of the SWOFON in Lagos, through which it would have been better to dispense such packages in the first instance.

Aluko said she had not benefited from any government loan. “I applied for the CBN loan two years ago but I am still waiting. I was called for the interview, which I attended in December 2018 at the CBN. They told us last year that the disbursement would be done through NIRSAL Microfinance Bank and I had to open an account with them. I am still waiting and hoping.” In her case, Afinotan said while the Lagos State government had been of help.

“I have not benefited from any federal government loan scheme for farmers since this pandemic started. I am not even aware of any.” So, how does she, and her colleagues, get financial support to work? She said, “We have taken loans from cooperatives and individuals with the intention to sell and repay the loan.”  There are some of the farmers who then decided that it was better to stay away from taking loans, because paying back is always a problem. Wakilat Okeji, a poultry farmer from Peyi village in Ushafa in the Bwari Area Council of the FCT is of the opinion that the soft loans that the federal government gives is grossly inadequate even for smallholder farmers.

She said, “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 a profit.”

However, Okeji said that she had to withdraw an application for the Covid-19 loan that would have enabled her access to N1.5 million because she could not get an immovable asset as collateral for the loan nor was she able to get a guarantor to stand surety for her. Those who drew up the process and the conditions for the facilities appear unaware of the status of the real smallholder farmers and their conditions for them to know that people in that category would not be able to meet the conditions.

That is why smallholder women farmers who campaign for support from the government, do a breakdown of the support required, particularly in the area of provision of seedlings, equipment and funds to manage the farms. And there are lots of them who are so vulnerable that aside from a crumbling business weighing them down it also affects the future of their children. A case in point is that of Hajiya Zainab Yusuf, a retired civil servant who is into farming in Kontagora.

Her source of support suffered a setback some years ago when the husband became bedridden. Now, the challenge occasioned by the Covid-19 lockdown is already posing a threat to the future of her 25-year old daughter, Hussaina Yusuf who is in her final year as a student of Physics with electrical engineering at the Federal University, Birni Kebbi. Hussaina said the rural women farmers need the support of the government, so they would be able to contribute their quota in the agriculture sector.

Hajiya Aishatu Usman, coordinator of the 100-member Himad Farmers Cooperative Society in the Riju local government area of Niger State and Hajiya Jumai Bala, coordinator, Sati Women cooperative Society agree with Hussaina. The two groups who practice mixed cropping complement each other, but believe they would do much better if funding or sundry support comes from the government.

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Bala said that they depend on manual labour to manage their farms, because they cannot always pay for a tractor, said they need support to halt the routine of losses associated with farmer’s investment. “After investing a huge amount of money on a farm, sometimes we lose the greater part of the investment to animals,” according to her. That is a part of our national life that the women would want the government to address, where men who deal in animal husbandry drive their animals to graze on the farm of a farmer who has invested so much and was expecting to have a good harvest.

For them, help might just be on the way, as Governor Abubakar Bello has hinted that his government would provide subsidised fertiliser, chemicals and seedlings for small scale farmers.

The governor said, “The focus of Niger state government this year is to mobilise women farmer groups to achieve their targets. Any women group into agriculture will be supported to get the available inputs and implements”. The farmers will wait until this promise has been fulfilled before they toast the gesture of the governor. They will not forget in a hurry the torrents of disappointment they had got from government in the past, either at the state or federal level. The different cooperative groups have complained about the lackadaisical attitude of officials of government to the implementation of often promising government policies and programmes.

The loans announced to ease lockdown were not forthcoming. For instance, Mrs. Atinuke Akinlade, state coordinator of SWOFON in Oyo State said she had led members of the body to make representations to the government on the need for support, but without positive response from the authorities. She even expressed disappointment over the politicisation of otherwise laudable government programmes at the expense of the larger population.

She said, “Another form of discouragement is the fact that seminars and workshops both foreign and local meant to train and guide women farmers are only being attended by who I would love to describe as ‘political farmers’ and wives of politicians and civil servants because of the financial gains involved.”

Mrs. Akinlade is pained that her farm, among others, was devastated by pests and weeds, because of the inability to get the funds to mobilize labourers for weeding or buy chemicals to treat the farms. She believes if the government was forthcoming with support to farmers, much would have been done to ameliorate their challenges.

Dr. Debo Akande, director-general of the state Agri-business development agency,  does not believe that Mrs. Akinlade’s story was representative of the situation in Oyo state. According to him, the governor had announced support in farm inputs for 10, 000 farmers in the state. He added, “a good number of these smallholder farmers will be women as far as the data I have seen is concerned. But beyond that, we are also opening uplands. One of the critical issues that women have in agriculture is access to land and finance because of the obvious reason of how we are constituted as a nation.

“And that is one of the reasons the governor has thought it wise to say “I can open uplands and then do a cluster farming where some of these women that do not have land can now come and work on our own land.”

Perhaps the government too will have to increase its supervision to confirm that there is no sabotage within the system. This is because farmers keep denying that they ever get access to such support from the government.

The smallholder farmers even suspect that there are deliberate efforts on the part of the agencies to frustrate them from getting the loan. Aluko, a retired nurse, said she wanted the facility to enable her to expand her farm and smoke the fish she produces. According to her, that was what she told them she needed the facility for. But she smelt a rat when she got to the office of the microfinance bank and was told that they would have to appoint a third party to do that for her.

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“I went with my sister to NIRSAL Microfinance Bank that CBN is using to disburse the loan. They were telling us that they had a vendor to do the smoking [of fish] for us. That was not part of the conditions for the loan. We are supposed to be the ones smoking the fish. That caused a lot of problems and they are still on it till now.”

Now, Aluko appears to have lost interest in the CBN loan. Her reason is that she suspects some foul play in the administration of the facility.

Hear her: “I don’t want to go for it anymore because the troubles from banks are too much. My sister and I put in for the loan but she was not able to access all the money. She disclosed that her sister applied for a N10 million loan but got only N770,000 as working capital. “The remaining money is still with them. They didn’t disburse it to her. Now they are telling her that she will start paying back the loan by this month (June). Which work did we do up to this time to start repaying the loan? I didn’t even envisage this when I said I wouldn’t want to take the loan anymore.”

Though Hamila Oyelade, spokesperson for the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs did not get back to our reporter to explain why farmers appear to have been locked out of the Trader Moni initiative, NIRSAL Microfinance Bank responded to questions on the challenges that farmers are experiencing with the process of accessing the CBN loan.

Hyacinth Peter, an official of NARSAL, said it may be the fault of the applicants. According to him, “There are lots of requirements. Some people just do the online registration and think that is all. Some will do online registration without submitting the documents required. Some submit some documents and leave out others. There are lots of inconsistencies with some applicants.”

Peter said some of the applicants are not able to defend the applications submitted for the loan properly or that they fail to even recognize the purpose of the facility in the first instance. This, he said, often leads to outright denial or sympathetic grant. He said, “The loan is designed in such a way that the asset is 75 percent and working capital is 25 percent. Sometimes, some people’s need for assets is just about 10 or 15 per cent. Sometimes it is better to decline a loan or out of charity, you just find a way to approve something very, very significant compared to what the person required.”

What that means is that if the government is serious about achieving the MDGs goals, then it should design a programme of enlightenment with a purpose to educate the farmers on how to process the facility. Otherwise, the avowed mission of the agriculture policy and the stimulus would fall flat.  However, Peter denied that his organization halts the disbursement of approved loans.

Similar announcements of stimulus packages in the United States, United Kingdom and Italy for instance are followed up with actions. President Donald Trump of the United States, on March 17, signed into law a $2.3 trillion economic stimulus package, the largest of such emergency aid in America’s history, to support businesses in the country. His administration went further to make available $600 billion in loans to small scale businesses with over 10,000 employees, so they can weather the Covid-19 lockdown.

Italy, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, announced a €25 billion fiscal package in March to support businesses. The government also extended the 2019 annual Value Added Tax (VAT) return deadline by two months from 30th April to 30th June 2020. The UK also made provision for about $400 billion in financial packages to assist businesses through the coronavirus period. In these countries there was hardly any complaint that the packages were either restricted to a class of people or that there were complications in the process for it.

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There is a consensus that activities of women farmers are very critical to efforts at realizing food security. Abraham Ogwu, an agricultural value chain development expert said, “Development projects should be tailored to suit women. If we are able to break that barrier of access, food insecurity challenge can be overcome. We need to look at how women can be better organized to be able to have access to extension services, financial services, market information.” Mrs. Igbokwe underscores the importance of women in agriculture, when she said, “special attention must be given to women farmers. We are too many across the country to be neglected”.

She expressed concern that food security may be threatened should the authorities deal with ‘fraudsters’ in place of the real farmers. The government is aware of the importance of smallholder farmers to efforts at attaining the goal of food security. That is why the government has worked over the years towards getting a document that speaks to the challenges of this group of farmers and design ways of addressing the issues involved.

So, in 2016 the federal government reviewed the 2014 draft policy that was put together to address the concerns of smallholder farmers in Nigeria. The result is Gender Policy in Agriculture. Introducing the document, Chief Audu Ogbeh, then minister of agriculture and rural development wrote, “The Gender Policy on Agriculture is expected to drastically reduce the vulnerability of women to biases in agriculture, address the unequal gender power relation and bridge gender gap. Improve the contributions of Small Holder Farmers who are predominantly women though huge, yet their access base to Agricultural asset is low.”

One major problem is the political will to translate policies to reality, which is often lacking in different administrations in Nigeria. Incidentally, Mrs. Ifeoma Anyanwu, then assistant director and head of the Gender section in the ministry, hinted this in the executive summary to the policy document.  She also listed some other challenges along with it:

-Lack of political will to effectively challenge the status quo through adequate

Implementation of the policy;

  • Sustenance of the well-entrenched patriarchal cultures and traditions including

Traditions on land ownership;

  • Inadequacy of gender-disaggregated data to expose the negative impacts of gender

biases on agricultural production so as to enable policy to uproot the malaise;

  • Poor monitoring and evaluation of the policy implementation;

  • Poor resources mobilization.

Glad that the government recognises what needs to be done for ambitious policies to be properly implemented. The government, therefore, needs to interrogate its commitment to the document, which has given it the prestige that it actively subscribes to affirmative action. What that means is that it will have to put things in place to ensure that its efforts are not jeopardised, either from within or by external elements. That is when the confidence of the people in government will be restored.

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