FARMING used to be traditionally viewed as a male-dominated occupation, with little input from women in supporting their families to grow crops and raise livestock. However, lately, a lot of women are breaking the bounds of this notion and engaging in agricultural production across Nigeria, despite gender-related impediments.
For Bilkisu Yahaya, a happily married, all-year-round rice and onion smallholder farmer in Birnin-Kudu Local Government Area (LGA) of Jigawa State, the challenges are numerous. However, the main worry lies in gaining access to the market for the end product after the whole hard work has been done.
According to Bilkisu, “I farm both in dry and rainy seasons; I also farm rare livestock. Despite all the challenges we face, including lack of inputs, our biggest worry is the middle-men.”
Explaining further, she says, “They exploit us to the high heavens because before they come to the farm, we already have an agreed price. But by the time they get here, they would cut the agreement down to almost fifty per cent, citing access road as an excuse. We are left with no choice but to sell to them that way.”
She adds, “I heard that there is this thing called ‘digital.’ We wish we can be provided with that, even if it’s that alone, to enable us to sell our products directly.”
Bilkisu’s allusion to the access road leading to her farm, in the Chimadara area of the State, is not just a mere saying. About 9 kilometres away from Dutse, the state capital, passing through Rungumau, Kwaimawa, Kudai villages, before veering off the main road in Kandi, North-West of Dutse, through Kwadiya, the road that leads to the farm is rough and barely passable. This is worsened by the direct impact of the scorching sun heating up the sandy desert, making access tiring, hot and de-hydrating.
“One might need to pause to catch a breath and have some rest before engaging in any farming activity. This in itself is a threat to productivity and overall output.
“We mostly come here through motorbikes and we have fallen here severally. In fact, I once fell off from one, with a pregnancy. It was tough. Sometimes when we come to some very rough points, we alight, trek the distance while the rider pushes the bike until we cross and then continue the journey,” Bilkisu recounts.
When asked if, as a woman farmer, she has ever received any form of support in terms of farming inputs and agricultural loans to boost her trade, Bilkisu, who went into farming because she had no job after graduating, reveals that she is not even aware if such initiatives or interventions exist.
“I am married and live in the state capital. I should know if anyone is helping the women farmers. No one has ever helped us. Sometimes, when we don’t have money to farm, we borrow and payback after harvesting our farm produce and selling them off,” Bilkisu says.
She further states that only men farmers get the intervention that comes and they, in turn, sell to the women at a low price, saying, “If we were getting direct interventions, our output would have far surpassed what we are producing now.”
Bilkisu started farming by borrowing pieces of farmlands. She eventually used her inheritance to purchase her own land. Now, she develops about two acres of rice farm in her Chimadara paddy.
“During the dry season, we farm a lot. Once we remove onion, if we like, we plant rice or carrot. It’s the fertility of the soil that matters.”
Bilkisu, who has lamented the security situation of the area, says sometimes she is scared traversing the area alone, which is why she is always accompanied by her male relatives.
According to her, “There was a day we received news that water had submerged our farms in the night. Having invested so much, I couldn’t wait till the following morning, so I came with my brother. But we fell down severally on the road, and we were scared that someone might follow us from nowhere. We are hoping for any form of intervention. We need help, even if it is the road, it will go a long way. Sometimes, we buy even fertilisers on credit,” she narrates.
Bilkisu says that a lot of women have farms but cannot till, instead they give the farms out due to lack of resources.
“We go through a lot of challenges ranging from lack of capacity building to adverse weather effects and even loss. There was a time I encountered a huge loss that almost made me give up on farming. I am still paying that debt,” she recalls.
She says that in terms of capacity building, agricultural extension workers usually come to interview them but nothing comes out of it.
For Maryam Mohammad, a small-holder women farmer who cultivates about four acres of land in the Dutse Local Government Area, her situation is not that different from Bilkisu’s.
However, she decries the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on their farming activities, coupled with the fact that they have challenges assessing the market.
“COVID-19 really affected us. Fertilisers mysteriously disappeared and where we were able to get it, some of the prices were outrageously high. So, our crops suffered, and our livestock was affected by the pandemic. Despite all this, we still farm, but our main challenge is that we don’t know even how to sell our produce after harvesting,” she says.
Maryam does not do dry season farming, which she attributes to lack of seedlings, irrigation machines, irrigation pipes, among others.
Unlike Bilkisu, who is farming on inherited land, another female farmer, Hajiya Maryam, who farms guinea-corn, millet, rice and beans, was given her own piece of farming land by her husband.
Located in the southwest of Dutse, through Minari, Sarari, Jigawar-Tsado and then Sakwaya, the road to Maryam’s farm is not as rough as that of Bilkisu and the security situation is fair, she says. But lack of manpower, farming inputs and implements is limiting their potential.
“Only men get loans here, we don’t. There was only one lady I know that ever got such a loan and it was even because she used the name of a man to enter,” Maryam says.
With a 2021 national budgetary allocation of N280.31 billion, accounting for 2.06 percent of the entire budget, the agriculture financing situation in Nigeria remains a far cry from the prescribed standard set by the 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, pegged at 10 per cent of its member countries’ annual national budget.
This is despite agriculture being the sector with the largest employer of labour in the country, providing jobs for more than one-third (34.65 per cent) of the Nigerian labour force, according to the International Labour Organisation, (ILO).
However, the Mass Agricultural Programme, conceived under the President Muhammadu Buhari post-COVID-19 Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), is targeted to span the entire agricultural value-chain, from farm to ‘table’, with an estimated cost of N634.98 billion – the largest share of the critical projects in the plan.
The programme is expected to involve between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every state of the federation through a multi‐layered approach. Smallholder farmers are expected to receive support directly or through out‐grower schemes. This will be by way of services and inputs, including land clearing, ploughing, provision of seeds, saplings, fertilisers, pesticides, as well as extension services and storage to mitigate post‐harvest losses and equipment.
Interestingly, none of the women farmers interviewed in Dutse, Hadejia, Ringim, Kiyawa or Gumel Local Government Area has received any form of support through government schemes to boost their farming.
Some of them say they use their children, brothers, and relatives as manpower to cultivate their farms, while those with little financial capacity employ outside labour for the hard tasks. Even so, the effect of climate change is still telling, especially on the farmlands of those who cannot afford constant irrigation.
The Jigawa State Commissioner for Agriculture Muhammad Alhassan believes the state is not neglecting women farmers as perceived, noting that over 49,000 women have been empowered with livestock since the current administration.
He, however, decries the dubious activities of some individuals who hide under the guise of being farmers in order to access inputs.
“It’s a mindset issue, rooted from societal orientation. Some of them are not real farmers, but people who just want to seize the opportunity in prevalent government programmes. So we try to filter such people out. Otherwise, we have been supporting women as much as we can; sometimes they give me a proposal and I guide them on how to write it and so on,” the commissioner says.
He, however, buttresses that irrespective of gender, his ministry usually gets memos from local government authorities, detailing all their needs, thereby guiding the state to intervene appropriately.
Recall that in October 2019, Jigawa State Governor Muhammad Badaru omitted the ministry of agriculture in the formation of his new cabinet.
The governor, who had appointed 11 commissioners and 15 special advisers, said he was disappointed with the ministry’s performance during his first term, adding that much needed to be done to make the state competitive.
“For agriculture, in the last four years, we remain far below the standard. We have to push in order to improve agriculture significantly and make our agricultural products competitive worldwide,” Governor Badaru had said, then.
For an Agricultural Etymologist in the Department of Crop Protection at Bayero University, (BUK), Kano, Nafi’u Bala Sanda, the solutions to some of these myriads of challenges lies in agri-tech.
Sanda, who opines that the current Federal Government has done much in terms of farming inputs, blames human factors for boycotting the end beneficiaries.
“Do you know that even village heads connive with politicians to collect inputs in the name of end beneficiaries and then divert it? That is why it is not surprising that these women are not getting the inputs they should, especially from the Federal Government,” he says.
As for climate change, he insists agri-tech has come to the rescue, as there are Greenhouses that enable farming in a protected environment, with all productive parameters fully automated, especially temperature control, relative humidity and even software fully calibrated to tell the history of soil fertility.
According to him, “Government should start looking that way, especially if we must support our women who are, in any case, the main drivers of smallholder farming. Technology is equating the gender gap; it all depends on the purpose and for those who are ready to do the job.”
Women farmers constitute over 60 per cent of the agriculture labour force and provide inputs and functions that are critical to agriculture.
They carry out about 80 per cent of agricultural production, 60 per cent of agricultural processing activities and 50 per cent of animal husbandry and related activities, yet women have access to less than 20 per cent of agricultural assets.
Hence, the Small-scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), has, in its latest charter of demands, called for access to free and subsidised farming inputs, grant support, gender-friendly machinery, storage facilities and adequate community policing for smallholder women farmers in Nigeria.
If realised, for farmers like Bilkisu and Maryam, it will not only make a huge difference for their occupation but will go a long way to inspiring more women farmers, thereby enhancing food security and the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Jigawa is a farming state with more than 80 per cent of its inhabitants engaged in agriculture.