By Obinna UNAEZE
GRACE Disa was discouraged at the fact that no funds were allocated to smallholder women farmers in Niger State. In March 2021, as the coordinator of Smallholder Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON) in the state, she had gone to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to request a copy of the budget.
“They explained to me that the state government did not allocate funds to the women farmers.”
This, she believed, was the consequence of not carrying women farmers along in formulating policies and preparing the budget on agriculture in the state.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Idris Gbogan confirmed to the reporter that there was no special budgetary provision for smallholder women farmers.
“What we do is that we allocate funds to all the agricultural activities involving both male and female together,” he said.
Gbogan said that sometime in 2018, the state chapter of SWOFON held a rally at the Ministry of Agriculture where they presented their demands.
He said that the women farmers demanded that they be invited to make input in the preparation of the state budget and they asked to be carried them along in all agriculture activities.
The permanent secretary said that the women demanded government assistance in the area of production, processing and marketing of agriculture products in the state.
Other demands included request for office accommodation, provision of women friendly equipment and a vehicle for their logistic support.
“All their (SWOFON) demands have since been forwarded to the appropriate authority for consideration,” he said.
Gbogan said that on the issue of office accommodation, the farmers were told to liaise with the state chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) for a temporary office.
Lack of timely delivery of fertilizers was a challenge commonly experienced by most of the women who spoke with our reporter.
A look at the state capital budget shows that there has been a decrease in agricultural allocations over the years.
Diversion of inputs, funding, insecurity
Diversion of interventions meant for women farmers has always been a problem and Disa said branding such items could help curb it.
“We want the government at all levels to allocate special branded bags of inputs to the women farmers to stop diversion. A timely delivery of these items would also help in planning farming activities. This is because it is seasonal,” she explained.
Disa feared that the insecurity challenges plaguing the state might result in a food crisis because farmers had abandoned their farmlands.
In Gurara, Paikoro and Chanchaga local government areas, the women farmers in efforts to tackle the challenge of finance resorted to generating revenue through registration fees and levies.
President of Diko Goodnews Co-operative, Thrift and Credit Society, under SWOFON in Gurara, Emily Celomi said that the farmers funded their farming activities from the N2,500 registration fees paid by new members and monthly levies of N500 or N2,000 per head.
Celomi explained that it was from the funds raised that they registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, opened a bank account and also engaged in agri-business and offered soft loans to members.
She said that the association had given out N30,000 each to five members with the interest rate of five per cent payable after five months.
“As of today, five of our members have collected N30,000 loans to assist them,” she said.
“What we are doing right now started from self-help and individual contributions. It means that if we get assistance to support our agri-business, we will do better,” she said.
Celomi said that the 50-member group cultivated maize, soybeans, beans and groundnut on over 10 hectares of land, while some members owned poultry farms.
She said that in the 2020 farming season, the farmers harvested 12 bags of maize, eight bags of soybeans, six bags of beans and five bags of groundnut with each bag measuring 80kg.
“We sell the farm produce during planting when their prices must have increased in the market,” she said.
She added that they owned a palm plantation with 2,000 palm trees that had started producing fruits.
“If we are assisted we can also expand to produce palm oil for local use and export,” she said.
She said that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and SWOFON once trained the farmers on how to establish poultry, fishery, and livestock farms but observed that many of the women did not have the resources to practice what they learnt.
Rigorous intervention funds, expired chemicals
The story is not different in other communities. Spokesperson of Sati Cooperative Women Association, Paikoro, Hajiya Hadiza Yahaya said that accessing interventions like grants and loans was a hurdle.
“The late disbursement of grants and loans by the financial institutions and government is affecting us negatively because agricultural activities are time bound.
“Another challenge is high interest rates. Sometimes, market forces determine how we sell our produce to repay loans,” Yahaya said.
In Paikoro, the farmers also paid certain levies which were used to prepare the land, purchase inputs, and hire labour, she said.
“Sometime ago, the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) distributed improved seeds, fertilisers and agro-chemicals to some of our members. The truth of the matter is that the inputs came late so many did not germinate after planting.
“We also suspected that some of the agro-chemicals given to us were expired, which affected the crops,” she noted.
Coordinator of Majidadi Cooperative Association in Chanchaga, Hajiya Hauwa Mohammed, said that the process of accessing the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) and other intervention programmes was too rigorous for her members.
“We know about the ABP, but the processes involved in getting any help there is very difficult because when you start the long process it will not end until the farming season is over. Therefore, we have to help ourselves by contributing money to sustain our farming activities,” she said.
Women farmers in Kontagora and Mariga local government areas also pointed out delay in getting implements and interventions.
Niger govt reacts
Reacting to the challenges faced by these women farmers, Head Women in Agriculture in Niger State Agricultural and Mechanisation Development Authority (NAMDA) Ruth Saba said that the state government was doing everything possible to carry the women farmers along.
Saba said that the body had extension agents who moved round the 25 local government areas of the state to assist the women in their farming activities, but she conceded that they were not enough.
“Many of the women farmers who are determined to farm do purchase their inputs on their own. In most cases, the farmers get their inputs late depending on whether it is coming from the Federal Government, state or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
“You will find out that at the end of the day it will lead to poor yield or harvest,” she said.
State Governor Abubakar Bello had, on June 8, inaugurated the 2021 farming season with 15,000 metric tonnes of fertilisers as part of efforts to increase agricultural production in the state – as was done in 2020 with the same number of fertilisers.
Bello said that government had accessed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Accelerated Agricultural Development Scheme (AADS) facility for the development of some dilapidated agricultural infrastructures across the state.
He assured farmers that the security of lives and properties remained the utmost priority of the government.
“We will continue to strive toward mitigating security challenges in the state and its repercussions on agriculture and food security,” he said.
*This report was done with the support of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and the International Centre for Investigative reporting, (ICIR).