Farming: Agri-Tech Cushioning COVID-19 Disruption but Rural Women Yearns for Access

Mohammed Dahiru Lawal

In Nigeria, women farmers constitute over 60% of the agriculture work force and provide inputs and functions that are critical to food security, all of which were disrupted by a global pandemic that took the world by storm – the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beyond the negative way it touched farming activities, less than 20% of women farmers interviewed have accessed agricultural assets, most of which are mitigation packages announced by government to cushion effect following the ease on lockdowns.

COVI-19 practically dealt us an extremely hard blow, movement restrictions prevented us from having access to our fields, lack of storage facilities caused our perishable products to damage completely thereby causing us an excruciating loss in income. Lack of good roads to even access the market made everything worse even when lockdowns started to ease,” said Wasila Mohammed (not real name), a 22yr-old Student of Kano State School of Nursing and Midwifery who uses proceeds from her Zakirai rice and tomatoe farm in Gabasawa Local Government Area of Kano state, to pave her way through school.

My father is late; I use the proceeds from my farm to support my mother and siblings. We feed on some parts of the harvest, cater for our needs and I even pave my way through school with it, but during the pandemic, we all went through hell, no money or food to eat,” she narrated further.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), agriculture being the sector with the largest employer of labour in the country, provide jobs for more than one‐third (34.65 percent) of the Nigerian labour force.

Among this labour force, women carry out about 80% of agricultural production, 60% of agricultural processing activities and 50% of animal husbandry and related activities.

Most women have suffered disproportionately as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened existing structural economic, social, and technological inequalities in the society.

In addition to their loss of income, farmers must deal with increasing prices for agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides and seedlings because the lockdown also affected the import and transportation of such goods.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic restricted normal execution of agricultural extension services and movement of agricultural produce to markets.

Even though the government announced mitigating measures, these often have meant very little in the lives of small-scale women farmers.

Soon after reports about the negative impacts of movement restrictions on agriculture made it into the public, the federal government declared agriculture an essential service that should be allowed to operate freely. The Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant government agencies started to issue clearance passes, but these never reached small-scale farmers. Government extension workers, who could potentially have distributed them, were nowhere to be found during the lockdown period,” said Mary Afan, president of the Small-Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON).

Recent times have witnessed a rise in agricultural technology that does not only target the source, but also the agricultural value chain in terms of production, processing and marketing that will change, transform, and increase productivity, but rural women are not getting the much-needed access to these inputs either due to cost implication or technical know-how.

Most of the women farmers interviewed in Kura, Garin Mallam, Chiromawa, Dambatta, Gezawa, Gabasawa, Bagwai, Shanono and Karaye Local Government Area of Kano State have not received any form of support through government schemes to boost their farming especially in training and agro-tech inputs especially as agri-tech may not only serve in cushioning the effect of COVID-19 alone but also that of Climate Change on the farming environment.

Some of us use our children, brothers, and relatives as manpower, to cultivate while those with little financial capacity, employ labour for the hard tasks. Even so, the effect of climate change is still telling, especially on the farmlands of those who could not afford constant irrigation when the rain is scarce,” Huraira, a small-scale farmer in Dambatta.

Speaking on the matter, Dr. Nafiu Bala Sanda, an Agricultural Etymologist in the Department of Crop Protection, Bayero University Kano, said the solutions to some of this myriad of challenges lies in agritech.

But, Professor Sani Miko, the Country Director, SAA Global 2000, while speaking on understanding new agricultural technologies and their impact towards productivity enhancement opines that, “Whether it is machinery, fertilizer, hired labour, alot of the farmers may know the tech is good but if it is expensive, they will not be able to buy it. So, affordability is key.”

However, Dr. Sanda is of the view that the current Federal Administration has done much in terms of farming inputs but blames human factor 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’s not surprising when these women are not getting the inputs they should especially from the federal government,” he lamented.

As for climate change, he thinks agro-tech has come to the rescue as there are green houses that enables farming in a protected environment with all productive parameters fully automated especially temperature control, relative humidity and even software’s fully calibrated to tell the history of soil fertility.

Government should start looking that way especially of we must support our women who are in any case the main drivers of smallholder farming. Technology is equating gender it depends on purpose and those ready to do the job,” he said.

Similarly, a lecturer with the Department of Information and Media Studies, Bayero University Kano, Dr. Rukayyah Aliyu Yusuf, has tasked Journalists to set a reporting agenda towards the adoption and use of Technology by farmers.

She spoke during a one-day expert/stakeholders meeting themed: Social and Behavioral Change Communication for Technology Adoption by Rice, Wheat and Tomato Farmers in Kano, held September last year at the Grand Central Hotel Kano.

According to Dr. Rukayyah, who presented a paper titled the Media and Public Enlightenment on Innovations: What Journalists Should do to Improve Uptake of the Farming Technology by Kano Farmers, Journalist to do human angle stories that will motivate farmers to adopt new technologies in rice, wheat and tomato farming.

This is a collective responsibility and while communicating these stories, Journalists should emphasise it’s simplicity and necessity.” She said.

Some of the new technologies currently in use include the Urea Deep Placement Technology, UDP, for improvement of nitrogen fertilization in irrigated rice system, the Urea Super Granules, USG, Rice destoning, milling and packaging equipments, mechanical harvesting and threshing equipments among others.

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