Women farmers helpless as COVID-19 deepens poverty in Nasarawa


Mrs Jumai Yohana, 52, stood in front of the camera in the middle of her melon farm at Ikposoge village in Obi LGA of Nasarawa state as she responded to this reporter’s questions in Hausa.

“My dream from childhood was to marry a farmer and I’m happy I did. Farming is in my blood, I was brought up in it,” she said while expressing her passion for farming.

The grandmother of two who has trained all her children in school with the income generated from the farm is now battling health challenges because she lost her crops and livestock worth millions of naira to a communal crisis.

Her mood changed as this reporter asked how she has fared as a farmer after the crisis. Her response tells the tale of how smallholder women farmers are not only marginalized in farm support services but neglected by the government, despite efforts to mainstream gender policy, which seeks to increase women and youth participation in agriculture.

“Please don’t remind me about those loses, I could start crying. It’s part of the issues responsible for my sickness. The rice, sorghum, yams, melon and many goats I lost were so huge,” she said staring at their destroyed apartments about 30 metres away from the farms.

Although Mrs Jumai has lost all her livestock and crops to the farmers-herders crisis a few years ago, she managed to start life again as a farmer, but the journey is more difficult because of the challenges of access to inputs especially in a period like this.

Jumai Yohana in her farm at Ikposoge, Obi LGA

She told this reporter that she struggles to buy certified seeds from the Nasarawa Agriculture Development Project (NADP), adding that lack of access to funds affects her ability to actively expand the farms.

“Sometimes we hear about government distribution of fertiliser, but if we go there, no one will give us. I have tried several times to also get a loan even after paying some money without any success. I’m not going to try again since one will not get it” she said.

COVID-19 is further worsening the situation: It has collapsed the market for melon she stored to make little more money to aid her farming activities and the challenges are enormous.

Like Jumai, many smallholder women farmers in other rural communities in Nasarawa State are in precarious footings as the measures taken to combat COVID-19 including restriction of movement and curfews continue to affect them adversely.

Despite the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) creation of N50 billion targeted credit facility for poorer households and SMEs and the provision of N1 trillion in loans to boost local manufacturing and production across critical sectors including agriculture, many of them said they did not benefit anything.

This reporter who went to some local government areas in the state also found women in dire situations because of the lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and the absence of the farm inputs support for the 2019/2020 wet season to enable them remain in agricultural production.

Their condition is further complicated by the shutdown of the rural economy due to closure of markets, restriction of movement across the state and the interstate lockdown, which grounds their small-scale agribusiness activities.

With access to certified seeds, fertilizer, mechanization and federal government palliatives becoming a major challenge, they expressed concern over likely poor harvest and how it might negatively affect their incomes since many of them are the breadwinners of their families.

Displaced, weakened by crisis

Like Mrs Jumai,  Mrs Suzan Godwin who coordinates Small Scale Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON) in Nasarawa State has a similar tale of sorrow where her 17, 000 yams and other crops in the farm were destroyed during crises, forcing her to move the family and farming activities to Andere at the outskirts of Lafia, along Doma-Lafia road.

The one-hectare land she currently cultivates in Andere is no longer fertile and needs a lot of fertiliser to support the groundnut and maize planted, but getting that input is a huge challenge for her and other women around.

“Since I joined SWOFON in 2012, we have never benefited from any assistance from the government. We were hoping something will happen this year when about 14,000 women across the state filled and submitted a form requesting government assistance in the area of fertiliser, improved seeds, a small machine like hand tillers. But the coming of this COVID-19 has taken the attention of government and they have forgotten that COVID-Hungry is worse” she said.

Suzan said she did not benefit from any of the Federal Government’s palliatives such as the food distribution to households and N50 billion to finance key sectors as well as the Conditional Cash Transfer, particularly, the additional one million households( from 2.6  million to 3.6 million ) ordered by the President Buhari to be included in the National Social Register.

“See, all these problems are because of lack of good seed, if not so, this groundnut would have germinated better than this and look at now, there is no fertiliser, this place [farm] is no more fertile.  If one is having all these supports from the government, at least one can expand the farm,” she said sadly while walking around the farm.

Her house in Tudun Adabu village today lays desolate as funds to rebuild the deserted house is now a huge challenge.

At Aridi Usman, a village located about 25 killometres from Lafia the Nasarawa State capital, Mrs Vines Adigizi, one of the many smallholder women farmers in the agrarian community is suffering the same fate.

The 37-year old widow, who is battling to meet the needs of her three children (all boys) and an aged mother, cultivates Cassava, yam, groundnut, rice, millet and beans.

Like the other women, Mrs Adigizi said she only heard of inputs supply by government and never benefited. She is not even aware of any palliative by the federal government targeting smallholder farmers like her.

“The major problem I face is lack of fertiliser, good seeds, absence of small farm machines like hand tillers that we women can even control and inadequate rainfall, that is why the groundnut and maize you see are looking somehow,” she stated while walking the reporter through her farm.

Now COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for her because the small grains trading business is down in the state as buyers no longer come due to restriction of movement.

Besides crop production, she has little investment in piggery, few broilers and one calf she raises to sell during the yuletide season to support her income.

‘Flood brought our lives to square one’

For Hanatu Umar, 45, mother of ten in Keana LGA, life has never been the same again since her rice farm was ravaged by flood last year. Before the flood disasters that changed her fortunes she used to harvest eight tonnes of rice. With that she comfortably pays her children school fees and that of the three orphans under her care.

This wet season she cultivated maize and melon and again, the farm is flooded leaving her in confusion.

“Seriously we don’t get any help from the government. Last year when the flood destroyed our farms, the government promised assistance. We went to workshops, held several meetings but eight months now, nothing has happened. At a point, we felt help was underway but nothing at the end. Currently, I must confess to you, we are suffering. We are running here and there trying to see where we can borrow money to go back to the farm.”

Since that flood disaster, she is struggling to repay the Anchor Borrowers’ loan she took to cultivate the rice, and despite the CBN three months moratorium, she said she was been told to pay with three bags of rice, which she bought from the market.

Also in Keana, I spoke to Hauwa Jibrin, 37, who has been cultivating sesame, soybeans and melon but the resources and input to expand are very difficult come by.

“We are just working for the grains merchants who are buying so cheap from us but we buy inputs at very high prices. We don’t have access to mechanization so the cost of labour is increasing by the day and if you add that to the cost of fertiliser, we have very little left to save.

What the women want

At the Galle area of Nasarawa-Eggon LGA,  Mrs Caroline Abimiku expressed the hope every smallholder farmer wants to see happen.

Mrs Caroline Abimiku in her yam farm

The retired 55-year-old farmer who cultivates yam and maize wants to see more aggressive support to particularly stallholder women farmers across the country especially in a period like this, adding that “all these palliatives they are talking about did not reach us.”

Mrs Abimiku also wants to see support in the areas of small farm equipment which the women can easily operate to reduce the cost of labour which she said was taken so much from them adding that “we don’t have the energy to do everything; we have to pay people to work for us.”

On access to land, she said: “Women find it very difficult to get access to land, a man has to stand in for you and when they see you’re getting something significant, they will take it back from you.” This is something she believes government can help in changing the perception.

We’ve committed resources to women in agric state govt

In Lafia, the Nasarawa State Commissioner of Agriculture and Water Resources, Professor Otaki Alanana told this reporter that the state government was “committed irrevocably to agriculture.”

“Both men and women are involved in agriculture but because of interest both the federal and the state governments have shown for women involved in agriculture, the federal government, as well as the state, has really committed a little of its resources to women in agriculture,” Professor Alanana said.

He stated that the state was working along with the Federal Government through several donor agencies’ programmes like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Value Chain Development Programme, which specifically helps women to produce and process cassava and rice.

The Commissioner also said the state government in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has provided support in the area of rice mills where women take their produce for milling in addition to the Smallholder Agricultural Empowerment Programme mainly for training women in horticulture for dry season production in Lafia.

According to him, the state government has also established relationship with the CBN to advance loan to women under the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) for rice production adding that they have sent the forms to all the ministries for those interested to apply but the condition was that such benefiting women must be in service to guarantee the loan.

For Palliative, the commissioner said that the state government has received palliative in terms of food items–rice, tins of tomatoes, livestock feeds from the federal government in terms of food items.

On inputs, he told this reporter that the state government procured and distributed fertiliser to each of the 13 local government areas on May 9 to be sold to the farmers directly at the price of N5, 000.

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