By Alfred AJAYI
December 2020 remains unforgettable for Ngozi Ubah, a small-scale farmer in Awku-Ukwu, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. Like the previous years, Ubah, who had been into livestock farming, had months earlier started rearing broilers ahead of the year’s festive sale , without any premonition that huge losses awaited her.
But when the festive period came, she eventually sold the birds cheaper than the cost of production as customers refused to buy at her own prices.
The devastating impact of such loss was not just for the small-scale farmer, but also for her 15 dependents, including nine biological children and a husband.
She was unable to control her heartbreak as she narrated her experience in tearful sobs:
“When we sold the last ones last December, despite all the sufferings, I could not even make the money I spent in rearing the chickens. It was after that ugly experience I decided to quit poultry farming.”
She made good her decision to quit as the poultry, located at the back of her residence, was empty and appeared abandoned. She was, however, burning with passion for the business she had done profitably for many years.
“If God remembers me and blesses me with money, I will start this poultry again. I enjoyed it when it was going on well.”
During the interaction with her, it was obvious that Ubah’s decision to quit was not just informed by the loss, but also an unfriendly business climate, worsened by a lack of assistance from the governments.
Without any respite in sight from the poultry venture, her survival became the cassava, yam, cocoyam and vegetable garden she planted around her house.
Part of the farms had been cleared in readiness for this year’s rainy season, but sourcing for funds to achieve all her plans occupied her mind as she conducted the reporter round the farms.
She lamented: “I am not finding things easy again. We went for training in Awka and they asked us to open an account. Up till now, nothing has happened. For this year, we are still waiting if the government will give us input. Last year, I bought a bundle of cassava sticks N3,000 or N4,000. For this farm, I will buy no fewer than N20,000 worth of cassava stems. Now, I have spent about N12,000 clearing the land. I will pay up to N20,000 to make the ridges and then buy cassava stems and drugs to keep them healthy until harvest. If you calculate all these expenses, you see why food is costly.”
Ngozi Ubah is not alone in her predicament as funding is identified as the greatest challenge, dealing a big blow to small-scale women farmers in Anambra State.
Georgina Akunyiba is the coordinator of the Small Scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria (SWOFON) in the state. Her business is thriving against all odds as the two-room shop, where she sells feeds, drugs and other items, is an attraction to other livestock farmers within and around Nnewi, the manufacturing hub of the state.
Apart from selling livestock feed, Akunyiba is also into poultry farming. She had sold her birds a day before the visit, leaving only a few broilers on the farm. Despite appearing to be doing better than most of her contemporaries, she argued she would have done even better, but for financial handicap.
“As small-scale farmers, we start with little money expecting that government would help us to do better. But, that has not happened. We survive by our efforts. We do contribution during our meetings and give members to help them.”
She continued: “A truck of feed is now over N3 million as against N1.7 or N1.8 million before. So, the money that would buy two trucks before will now manage to get one. To rear 50 broilers to maturity, 20 bags of feed is needed. We bought that quantity at N32,000. But now, N100,000 cannot buy it.”
Akunyiba’s situation is better appreciated, knowing that she lost her husband in 2014. For seven years, she has solely carried the responsibility of raising her five children with the proceeds of her agriculture business. Today, she has one university graduate, two undergraduates and two still in secondary school.
How is she coping? Akunyiba attributed her success to divine intervention. “It is God that is helping me to train them. We have been neglected by the government and some of us are already quitting agriculture out of frustration.”
Perhaps, these women’s testimonies would have been different if the government had demonstrated appreciable commitment to various policies designed to promote agriculture, considering the critical position they occupy in the food production chain.
According to the National Gender Policy in Agriculture, women carry out about 80 per cent of agricultural production, 60 per cent of processing activities as well 50 per cent of animal husbandry. While smallholder farmers are said to constitute about 70 per cent of the nation’s total farming population, the majority of them are women and are involved in the entire agriculture value chain.
Unfortunately, these hardworking women have access to less than 20 per cent of agricultural assets, including land, capital and other factors of production.
In dissecting the situation, agriculture value chain expert Abraham Ogwu regretted that the access problem had undermined the productive capacity of the smallholder women farmers, who had been unable to take good advantage of various innovations in the sector.
“There are innovations coming up every day all through the value chain, production, processing, marketing and others. But because smallholder women farmers lack support and empowerment, some of the innovations have not been able to improve their lots.”
Interactions with small-scale women farmers in Idemili North and South, Orumba North and South as well as Nnewi North and Anambra East local government areas revealed long neglect by the federal and Anambra State governments.
“We have not got anything from them, whether the CBN Anchor Borrowers, the Bank of Agriculture, NIRSAL and other institutions,” Akunyiba lamented.
How effective are the agric policies and programmes?
The neglect of small-scale women farmers in Anambra State does not emanate from a lack of policies and interventions within the sector, but from what experts termed ‘poor and un-commitment of the government to those interventions’ – and these exist at both state and federal levels. The long list of existing policies include: the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), the Agricultural Credit Support Scheme, (ACSS) and Grow and Earn More Program (GEM), among others.
The ABP was initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2015 to link anchor companies with smallholder farmers of key agricultural commodities such as rice, maize, wheat, cassava, yam and potato etc as well as livestock farmers, through the provision of loans, agricultural equipment and blueprints on how to tackle the farming challenge.
The CACS was jointly established by the CBN and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to promote commercial agricultural enterprises in Nigeria. The main thrust of NIRSAL is to fix the agricultural value chain and boost the confidence of the banks to lend to the value chain by offering them strong incentives and technical assistance.
On its part, the Bank of Agriculture offers numerous products and services to farmers. Its GEM is targeted at encouraging Nigerian women to embrace agriculture as a business. With a maximum loan limit of N1 million per individual, the beneficiaries must be smallholders who do not need collateral, but acceptable guarantors with verifiable income as well as NIRSAL Credit Risk Guarantee to cover 75 per centof loan delinquency.
Apart from these programmes, Nigeria is a signatory to many international instruments and conventions, with several policies including the Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020, which, among other things, identifies the need to maximise the contributions of women to agricultural production and the elimination of discriminatory practices, while the Nigerian Gender Policy seeks to remove all gender-based barriers facing women in agricultural production by giving them access to critical resources such as land, capital, credit, farm inputs, technology, water and extension services, preservation and storage, markets, among others.
The 12-month, N2.3 trillion Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) was initiated to help different categories of Nigerians, including smallholder farmers with key interventions like the Mass Agricultural Programme (MAP), aimed at achieving cultivation of between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmlands in every state and supporting off-take and agro-processing with low-interest credit.
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, mandates state parties to mainstream gender considerations in all policies, plans, laws and their implementation.
Similarly, the Malabo Declaration, which Nigeria committed itself to in 2014, recommends a minimum of 10 per cent yearly budget investment in agriculture. It also specifically tasks the governments of member-states to support and facilitate preferential entry and participation of women and youths in gainful and attractive agri-business opportunities.
The Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets doubling by 2030, the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, particularly women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.
Although these programmes, policies and international instruments have been of immense help to many farmers, investigations revealed that a greater per cent of smallholder farmers in Anambra State had not reaped their benefits.
Felicia Ileka, based in Nnewi, Nnewi North Local Government Area, is 86 years old and has obvious difficulty moving about. But her passion for agriculture is not hidden, as she proudly owns a number of farms, a little distance away from her residence.
Fortunately, the octogenarian farmer with experience spanning over 50 years has unfettered access to land resource, which is one of the biggest challenges confronting average women farmers. She narrated her voyage into farming.
“My father and mother were great farmers and since I was not fortunate to go to school, due to low premium placed on female education then, I inherited farming from them. I have been a farmer for several decades.”
Assistance from the government would have made a lot of difference but Ileka has never been so lucky all these years. That is why despite all her efforts to cultivate as many as she can, several hectares of land still lie fallow and uncultivated.
“It’s only my children helping me as God blesses them. At my age now, I need modern farming implement and equipment. I can no longer cope with the ancient method of farming.”
Driving from the centre of Ufuma, in Orumba North Local Government Area, to Stellamaris Egbuonu’s farm took about 40 minutes. And from the point where driving became impossible to the farm is a trekking distance of another 10 minutes. It is a cassava farm fast growing into maturity. Asked how they were getting prepared for this year’s farming season, Egbuonu responded with the challenges confronting them.
“In this area, we produce garri. But, the government is not helping us. I can do more than I am doing now. There are virgin pieces of lands everywhere but we do not have the money to cultivate them. Getting labourers now is very costly, the prices of various inputs are also on the high side. Government should remember us,” she pleaded.
Close to Egbuonu’s farms is that of Theresa Okolo, who lives in a small house, which portrays her status as a smallholder farmer who is barely surviving. She is desirous of expanding the size of her farm, but she cannot raise the money to acquire extra land. The only assistance she gets is from her son, who often sends money to advance her agricultural ‘vocation’.
The soft-spoken woman hopes that things get better in the coming days, particularly with financial and other forms of assistance from the federal and state governments, which she anticipates would enable her to increase productivity from the current two to three plots.
“As you see me, I have not known any government as a farmer. They never give me anything. I am only struggling to survive.”
Budgets not working for us
Apart from policies and international instruments not achieving their intended purposes, the women have not felt the benefits of the annual budgets of the state and federal governments.
A study by the Centre for Social Justice, a non-governmental organisation, reveals a disconnect between the policies and annual budgets. For instance, while the Malabo Declaration mandates member-states to earmark 10 per cent of their total annual budget to agriculture, the reality from the state and the federal budget is less than three per cent.
The total capital expenditure of the Anambra State Government was N110.979 billion in 2015 but only N1.384 billion was provided for projects and programmes that would benefit smallholder farmers. When the total capital expenditure declined to N52.696 billion in 2016, the provision for smallholder farmers was reduced to N706 million. The provision for the farmers went further down to N546 million in 2017, notwithstanding the upward review of the total capital expenditure to N63.282 billion.
When there was a further rise in the total capital expenditure in 2018 to N106.432 billion, the provision for the small-scale farmers also rose to N3.17 billion. The total capital expenditure suffered a downward trend in 2019 to N91.835 billion, just as the allocation to smallholder farmers got reduced to N1.58 billion.
In percentage, only 1.25 per cent of the state total capital expenditure was for capital projects targeted at smallholder farmers in 2015. It increased to 1.34 per cent in 2016 and declined further to .86 per cent in 2017. It increased to 2.98 per cent in 2018 before seeing a decrease to 1.72 per cent in 2019.
The budget lines were for various projects such as seed multiplication and horticultural development project, fertilizer procurement and distribution, agricultural extension information services, procurement of agro-inputs, IDA support to National FADAMA Development Project (NFDP–III), IFAD/FGN Support for Value Chain Development Programme (VCDP) and Produce Storage and Fumigation Scheme.
Others were: co-operative credit scheme, state programme on food and nutrition, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) project, poverty eradication programme and loan grant, micro-credit loan for women cooperatives as well as purchase of equipment for women co-operative societies (WCS).
The above statistics are considered poor given that eight ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in the state made provisions for smallholder farmers in their annual budgets within the period.
The MDAs were: Agricultural Development Project (ADP), Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Commission, Office of the Governor as well as Ministries of Agriculture, Economic Planning, Budget and Development Partners, Environment, Social Welfare, Children and Women Affairs and Ministry of Trade, Commerce, Markets and Wealth Creation.
At the federal level, only 1.2 per cent of the nation’s total budget was allocated to agriculture in 2016. It was 1.82 per cent in 2017 and rose to 2.23 per cent in 2018. It declined to 1.85 per cent in 2019.
Despite receiving an average of 1.6 per cent of the total budget over the five years, with an average of 59.52 per cent committed to capital expenditure, the actual release averaged 56 per cent for the four years.
Out of over N415 billion total capital budget for agriculture for the period 2015 to 2019, only about 19.4 billion naira, representing about 4.6 per cent, was allocated to women farmers. The study by the Centre for Social Justice equally found that most allocations to women farmers during the period were lumped together with youths, making it difficult for them to enjoy the funds.
Also, of concern is the fact that most of the projects and programmes budgeted for, over the years, did not enjoy the actual release of funds. So, they were either abandoned or put on hold, all to the detriment of the farmers, the target beneficiaries.
Lamentations about climate change, herdsmen and poor road network
In Anambra State, competition for land has become fiercer as a result of climate change, where erosion and flooding are adverse consequences. Despite being one of the smallest in the country in terms of landmass, the state is threatened on every side with almost 1,000 active gullies, which have naturally reduced the size of arable and cultivable land.
During a tour of various communities, hectares of rice fields, yam and cassava farms, submerged by flood last year, were still in their devastated state, as they were yet to be re-cultivated. Gullies have rendered arable lands in various parts of the state useless for agricultural purposes, while thousands of residents have been sacked from their homes.
The year 2020 was one some farmers in the state do not pray to experience again, due to losses incurred as a result of the harsh impacts of climate change such as drought, pests and diseases.
Rosemary Onwuegbuka has six children and three other dependents. She lives in Ayamelum Local Government Area but has her rice farm at Eziaguluotu-Aguleri, in Anambra East Local Government Area, a distance of more than one hour. The farm spanning hectares of land was among those submerged during the 2020 flooding – a situation that plunged her into unprecedented hardship. She barely meets up with family obligations, including the payment of tuition for her school-age children.
“Since flood carried everything, we cannot pay back the money we borrowed. I cannot even pay school fees. Just last week, somebody training my son in a vocation in Aguleri stopped him from coming because I have not paid the balance of N14,000.”
Since the whole community is naturally prone to flooding, Onwuegbuka has replanted her rice on the same piece of land, hoping that she will be able to harvest before the next flood episode. She also believes that prompt assistance from the government can help them to recover from what has become a perennial loss.
While reacting to why she re-cultivated rice in the flood-prone area, she said: “The land is our inheritance and we have no other one. We went back there. Had it been they give us support, we would have started early so that by the end of June, July, we will harvest.”
“Now, we need cash, inputs and machine to clear virgin lands we want to cultivate. We also need fertilizer, herbicide. If they give us cash, we can use it to buy whatever we need.”
Investigations revealed that livestock farmers were not spared as some had their poultry, piggery and fish ponds washed away. The experience of Stellamaris Egbuonu was different. A part of her farm was affected by drought in 2020 and the impact was still obvious at the time of visit. That part of the farm had suffered stunted growth and was not as healthy as the part enjoying adequate rainfall. This, again, means a loss of revenue.
Recounting her experience, Stellamaris Egbuonu said: “You can see this one is not looking good like the other one. When it started growing last year, the rain stopped for some weeks and the heat almost killed the cassava. This farm is almost a year old. But, if we harvest it now, the yield will be very low.”
An environmental expert with the Agricultural Transformation Agenda Support Programme (ATASP-1) in Adani-Omor Zone, Jane Nwabachili, agreed that the changing climate was dealing a big blow to the world.
“Most agricultural activities depend on steady weather, water and soil. So, farmers suffer more when these conditions become unpredictable. The consequences of continued temperature rise such as stronger storms, dangerous heat waves, rise in sea levels, translate to crop failures, income loss and food insecurity for farmers and the society.”
“Climate change affects the availability of surface water and as a result, rural women, whose duty it is to fetch water for their families, have to go long distances. This increases their already substantial work load. Again, women often have more limited rights than men in this part of the world, limited mobility and access to resources, information and decision-making authorities. As a result, any slight change significantly impacts them, climate change iinclusive.”
Perhaps, the greatest challenge confronting food production today is open grazing with its increasingly destructive impacts. It accounts for incessant clashes between farmers and herders, particularly in remote agrarian communities, leading to the destruction of lives, farm produce and property worth millions of naira.
People of Ufuma in Orumba North Local Government Area are yet to recover from the losses they incurred when their farms were destroyed by suspected herders months ago. The development has gravely slowed down activities at one of the active garri processing mills located at Umuagu village.
The leader of the women co-operatives, which owns the mill, Stella Onuchukwu, shed more light on the development.
“Herdsmen carried cows and went into all the farms around here, uprooted the cassava and used them to feed their cows. Now, you don’t see cassava to buy even in the market. We are now waiting for all these new ones to mature so that our business will start again,” she lamented.
Eucharia Okeke, the only woman at the mill during the visit, bemoaned the situation, which had denied them the reward of their hard labour.
“If you come here during Easter or Christmas, you will not find a place to sit down. Now, there is no cassava again. If you see them on your farm, you dare not challenge them or they do whatever they like to you.”
The South-East Governors Forum recently pronounced a ban on open grazing in all the five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. However, women farmers believe such pronouncement will not make any difference without legal backing.
Allegation of corruption
Many of the women blame their woes on corrupt public officials, who they accuse of often diverting what is meant for them to ‘political farmers.’
Rosemary Onwuegbuka, a rice farmer struggling to get back on her feet after last year’s flood, is frustrated with the many unfulfilled promises from the state and federal governments.
During a phone conversation, she was resolute not to grant any interview on the issue because of the anger she felt, but relented after much persuasion
“Let me just tell you the truth, I am sick of all these pranks since 2007. They keep calling us for seminars and workshops and, in the end, they will release whatever to politicians who have no farm. All the palliatives that government claimed to have released to cushion the impacts of COVID-19 on Nigerians, we did not receive any.”
A Professor of Economics and current Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka Uche Collins Nwogwugwu, who also agreed that corruption stood in-between smallholder women farmers and government interventions, stressed the need for a genuine and urgent solution to the problem.
“There is no playing the ostrich. Those who divert incentives and interventions meant for the poor farmers are in the government. If they want to stop corruption today, they have the capability, power and authority to do so. What they probably lack is the political willpower to end corruption.”
We are undeterred by challenges
Limiting the challenges confronting small scale women farmers in Anambra State to lack of access to agricultural incentives does not do justice to them. Their problems have been worsened by the deplorable condition of most roads leading to farms or linking them to markets, a reality which questions the commitment of authorities to make agriculture an interesting business.
Transporting farm produce to urban centres is with great difficulty and at an exorbitant rate. This expectedly results in a post-harvest losses on an annual basis as recounted by the women farmers, including Stellamaris Egbuonu, who also bemoaned the lack of storage facilities.
“You see where we drove from and the distance we have trekked. If I harvest, you can imagine the difficulty in taking the products to town. If you will get a bike or motor… you are ready to pay whatever price the driver or rider calls. We have no standard storage facilities. So, we are forced to sell our products at give-away prices, which never justified the drudgery and pains of planting them.”
However, the women are resolute in their determination to continue producing food for an ever-growing population. In their quest for a reversal of fate, they have come up with a Charter of Demands, which among other things are: access to an interest-free loan from the government, provision of gender-friendly types of machinery such as tillers, ploughs, harvesters, etc at subsidised rates, provision of extension services, hatchery machine and access to quality feeds for livestock, water.
Of topmost importance to them is linkage to off-takers and increased markets information systems, construction of good roads, the establishment of local security bodies and mechanisms to reduce farmer-herder crisis as well as provision of climate-resilient farming training to improve soil infertility.
Stella Onuchukwu aptly captured their resolve: “We are not discouraged at all. If not for any other thing, we can fend for our families. We will continue helping ourselves and if we have anything from the government, we will consider it as a boost. Let them try us and we will surprise them.”
Value Chain Expert, Mr Ogwu, recommended women-focused interventions from government and NGOs, which could help in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty in many households, a situation he argued, also adversely affected the nation’s economy in the long run.
“Also, women need to occupy positions of authority so that they can influence certain policies and decisions in favour of fellow women. If the CBN, Bank of Agriculture or NIRSAL is headed by a woman, I’m sure she will make policies that will affect the women folks positively. We need NGOs that will build the capacity of the women assert themselves.”
We have not abandoned any farmer – Anambra Govt
Commenting on various issues raised by the farmers, the Programme Manage for Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) in the state Jude Nwankwo explained that the administration of Governor Willie Obiano, which made agriculture its number one pillar, would not discriminate on the basis of gender.
“Whether they are SWOFON or whatever, we have the data of all farmers. We have a unit called WIA, (Women in Agriculture), which deals specifically with women. And when any project comes in, the women are not neglected.
“But, you know, some prefer to stay away and be passing funny comments. They want to see someone that has benefitted before they come in. There is a nationwide collation of data of all farmers and Anambra is in it. When our enumerators met some of them, they were very sceptical. That is part of the problems.”
The ADP programme manager, who acknowledged appropriating amounts lower than recommended to the agriculture sector, attributed it to the economic realities over the years as well as other sectors contending for attention.
“Also, the pandemic has dealt seriously with the global economy. Besides, there are several other sectors that need budgetary allocations. So, getting to the 10 per cent is a gradual process. I believe over time, we’ll be there.”
While calling on the small-scale farmers to seek useful information from genuine sources, Nwankwo equally stressed the need for them to be persistent with their demands.
“Probably, they were hurt by the previous regime, but we are serious. We are not corrupt. Our business is nothing but agriculture and we know that these small-scale women farmers are the ones making things happen in agriculture.”
“As I am talking to you now, a lot of things are happening. I am telling them now – come out, go to the agric department in your local government and ask the extension agents what you want to know about the Ministry of Agriculture. That’s why they are paid.”.\
“On the issue of diversion of cassava stems, we have been distributing various species for several years. Many farmers have cultivated it…How can you call it diversion just because you know that what was distributed was of the same species?” Nwankwo inquired.
Mitigating climate change
Research in climate change has shown the imperative of developing climate adaptation technologies, which will advance agricultural activities, while investment in smart agriculture is capable of helping to curb flood, drought, pests and diseases.
On the part of the state government, Nwankwo explained that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had always provided the farmers with useful information that would help them to cope better with the impacts of climate change.
“We have best practices officers on the field who advise the farmers, especially those in flood-prone areas, on what to do so that they can harvest before the flood comes. And for victims of the flood, we have always shared inputs as soon as the flood recedes, so that they will have what to plant in the new farming season.”
Nwankwo assured that the future held greater promises for all categories of farmers as the ministry had procured additional tractors to boost mechanised agriculture. “So, let them come out and access all that we are doing. We cannot do without the small-scale farmers. And they must know that we are here for them.”
This report was produced with the support of the International Budget Partnership, IBP and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR