© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Women farmers still waiting for COVID-19 palliatives, months after president’s promise
Farmers have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic and require assistance to prevent food shortage. EMMA ELEKWA reports that the palliatives promised by the government are yet to get to many of them.
Uche Ileka, an indigene of Umezeagu Nnewi in Anambra State, was a banker; now a happy farmer. She has her hands in poultry, cocoyam, yam and vegetable farming, through which she cares for her family and pays her children’s school fees.
She is one of the members of the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), Anambra branch, a group, representing over 500,000 grassroots women farmers in the country.
Ileka said her farming business would have thrived better had the government fulfilled the promise to provide incentives to women farmers engaged in the production of various foods in the state.
“No hatchery machine, no vaccination for the birds. Some of the ones we’re using are adulterated. No power supply to secure vaccines. That’s the major reason why we’re losing so many birds in the country, the issue of mortality!
“If these things were to be on the ground, I bet you, we won’t lack food in this country,” she said, stressing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on farmers.
She agonized about her unsold poultry during Easter, and the prices of food items that continue rising.
She blamed some of the challenges facing farmers on poor roads.
“The shortest route to access this place couldn’t have taken you up to five minutes, but look at the distance you’ve covered owing to bad road. If it rains now, sorry will be our second name.”
Though she has heard about palliatives for farmers, she said she has not received any.
Despite various economic relief packages announced by the federal and state government, many women farmers said they have not received the support.
President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the implementation of a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the small and medium scale enterprises.
He also directed that the social register of the poor “be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks” and placed a moratorium on all government-funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank.
Buhari also announced an initiative aimed at minimizing the impact of the pandemic on the agriculture sector, directing the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice-Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertilizer Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on 2020 farming season was minimized.
In view of the promise, the CBN announced a credit relief package of N50 billion (about $136.6M) to businesses affected by the pandemic which the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele said would be for households, small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, agriculture food chain businesses, SMEs, airline operators, service providers, hotels and healthcare merchants.
In Anambra State, the government announced the securing of 3,000 hectares of arable land in the agricultural belt of the state for large scale farming during the planting season. The governor, Willie Obiano, who said the initiative is expected to take over 2,000 youths off the labour market, added that his administration came up with a short term plan that would ensure that food supply was not adversely affected in the state after Covid-19.
“We’ve ordered the purchase of seven tractors to be deployed in the cultivation of the land. We’re empowering women and youths by providing them with cages for poultry and feedstock for birds,” he said.
Although the pandemic has largely affected their early commencement of farm clearing, farmers in the state expressed confidence of still meeting up with the bountiful harvest, especially if governments would make good their promises of providing them with the necessary palliatives.
Another farmer, Mrs. Rosemary Onwuegbuka, the SWOFON Coordinator in Ayamelum Local Government Area, who said she has been farming for over 20 years ago, cultivates cassava, yam and rice.
“Again, I’m able to engage women with the help of my assistant, convincing them to see farming as a lucrative business. Women under me can boast of two, three farmlands, depending on their strength.
I encourage them, instead of staying idle at home, they should go into farming,” she said.
She expressed frustration about her inability to recruit more hands in the business owing to financial constraints.
“I’m yet to start employing people because of a lack of incentives. If the government will take us seriously by providing us with the necessary inputs, I would have done better. You can see the vast land we have that is still fallow. We need money to clear and cultivate it. Had it been they’re giving us tractor, seedlings, fertilisers, improved varieties of cassava stems at subsidised rates, that will enable us to have enough to employ people whom we can pay.
“I’m supposed to have a Camp Manager by now so the workload will reduce. If you seek a bank loan, they will demand the Certificate of Occupancy of your shop. How can a farmer have a shop in the main market? It’s very difficult to access the loan.
“We find it difficult to employ people, instead we do what we call cluster farming. We work in someone’s farm today, tomorrow we go to another. If they assist us, with time, we’ll be exporting our rice, yam and cassava, and still have enough to sell locally.”
She, however, stressed the need for the assistance to be provided at the right time, noting that “this our area, we normally do dry season farming. So bringing the seedlings in October is useless to us.”
“We have not received any assistance. All they ask us to do is to write down our names after which they gave nothing. We’re finding it difficult to farm because we farm in groups. We do rotate it.
“We went to our local government when we heard they were sharing fertilizer there, but they said our names were not there. They gave one bag each to four persons they claimed their names were captured in their list. They said our names are not in their lists even when we are the real farmers.”
She urged the government to avoid intermediaries while sharing palliatives or any form of incentives to farmers.
“Governments should stop going through middlemen, but come down to the grassroots. Let them come directly to us. We know the real farmers one by one. Anything they give us will definitely reach the farmers. We control over 1000 real farmers and we have their data,” she stated.
On the negative impact of the lockdown on their farming, Onwuka said the price of labour, has increased drastically.
“Our labourers who normally come from Ebonyi State no longer come because of the interstate movement restrictions. They can’t cross the border to come.
“Secondly, the cost of chemicals and maize seedlings skyrocketed because of the lockdown. Companies are not working. Besides, when we take our products to the market, we hardly sell due to a lack of patronage. We are forced to reduce the price so we can sell.”
Another woman farmer, Mrs. Amaka Anisigwe, who is the community women leader for Ihiala and Vice Principal, Abbo Girls Secondary School, said she has invested over N150,000 in her farm this year, for the clearing of the site, weeding, cultivating as well as putting the stems for cassava, melon, maize and pumpkin.
Anisigwe said she was among those who are yet to benefit from government palliatives.
“For now, I’ve not received anything, not even fertiliser, but I hope they will send it. But I wish it comes soon so that we can put them into use. That’s one way of encouraging us small scale women farmers. Even if they were diverted, let them re-divert them.
“Being a farmer is not an easy task, it has its merits and demerits, gains and losses. We really need seedlings, fertiliser to boost our farms. It’s only what we have we can push into the market.”
Unlike for others, the proud farmer however described the lockdown order as a blessing in disguise, saying the government should declare lockdown during every farming season so parents and their children could take advantage of the period to farm.
“With this lockdown, you can see there’s lots of hunger everywhere. It’s good everyone goes back to farming.
“One good thing about this Covid-19 lockdown is those who have not farmed for years now, are now in the farm with their family members. All the children have learned how to cultivate and I love it so much.
“Most of the land that has been lying fallow for more than 15 years, go there now, they’ve all been cultivated. I advocate the government to declare every farming season Covid-19 period so parents can go into farm work with their kids.
“My children are all engaged in every stage. Very soon, they will come for weeding. Bible says if you don’t work, don’t eat.
“Since over 12 years I started farming, I’ve achieved a lot from it. I know how much I normally make from cassava and maize during harvest season. Most women into roasting of corn normally come to buy from my farm.
“The proceeds have been helpful. I invest in my family, like paying school fees, rent, hospital bills and other necessary expenses. I can’t regret being a farmer in view of the great dividends.
“I have a bigger farm down the village, close to the river, three times bigger. We have rice, cassava. I’m a member of the Co-operative society where we process oil. I also have laborers I pay,” she said.
Anisigwe advised every household to be involved in agriculture. “Let them stop going to the market for everything when they can get them from their farms. For me, I don’t think of food scarcity. I even have enough to give to poor people. I’m praying the government to encourage us. We need money, I’m aging. I’m an old woman, don’t mind my size. “I’m sure they must have learnt some lessons from the Covid-19,” she said.
Mrs. Amaka Ibemesi, a farmer from Onitsha North Local Government Area said has lots of land, cassava, plantains and vegetables and also assists her brother who’s into poultry farming.
Ibemesi also complained about the effects of the Covid-19 on her farming. “If not for this Covid-19, I could have gone far. If you see my cassava plants in Delta, you’ll marvel. It’s far more than this. It’s only cassava, maize and fertiliser that they have given me, from Idemili Local Government,” she said.
On the palliatives from the government, Ibemesi said she got maize, cassava stems from the local government.
“They also collected our account number and promised to assist later,” she said but appealed for more government assistance, to motive the farmers to produce more food.
“If the government will do the needful, I’ll surprise them. I can employ more hands. Like in Delta, we sell our produce. I have five children who are assisting me.”
Mrs. Chika Okafor, co-ordinator, SWOFON in Idemili South, told the reporter that she has over ten plots of land where she plants cassava, yam and potatoes.
On whether she had received any assistance from the government, Okafor said, “They [government] have been making promises. Last two weeks, some seedlings from the state government were distributed, after collecting names.
“But it didn’t get to us, but rather ended with political farmers, not real farmers. In fact, I left the venue without getting anything. When they are bringing assistance, they should pass through the ministry of agriculture. They know the farmers. Instead of handing them over to politicians, they will end up hijacking them.”
On how they are coping, the widow said they used to purchase their inputs from the proceeds from the farm produce. They buy seedlings, organic and lime fertilisers themselves.
“The Covid-19 pandemic really affected us. Ordinarily, we’re supposed to have finished the stage we are now, but because of the lockdown, no market is open for us to buy the seedlings. It really drew us back. She listed some of the challenges she encountered in the business to include epileptic power supply and utility vehicles.
“Some of the machines we use, including the processing machine doesn’t work always due to lack of steady power supply.
“We’re now planning to procure a generating set as back up. Let the government help us with a steady power supply. If not for the lockdown and power challenge, we could have been in money now, especially from garri. I so much cherish the garri processing machine because we also get starch from there.
“The starch we derive from the garri processing machine is a hot cake for pharmacists, they keep coming to make demands. If we have enough, we make a lot of money from it.
“Presently, garri is expensive. So if you dry and grind cassava seedlings, many families will come for it because it is cheaper than garri. Even in my family, we no longer eat garri. It’s the dried cassava flour we eat. Most of the time we want to distribute our goods, we hire vehicles for that. If there’s any way the government can help us, we will appreciate it.”
Okafor further stressed the need for every household to engage in farming so as to mitigate the impending food scarcity.
“We will have food scarcity next year if everyone does not put hands on agriculture. This Covid-19 has taught us so many lessons… Every Nigerian is supposed to have a farm,” she stated.
This report was made possible with support from the International Budget Partnership (IBP).