In Jigawa, Smallholder Women Farmers Yearn for Digital Technology to the Rescue of Their Farm Products
Khadijah Ishaq Bawas
Farming is traditionally viewed as a male dominated occupation with little input from women in supporting their family to grow crops and raise livestocks, but 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 but the main worry lies in gaining access to the market for the end product after the whole hard work that has been put in.
“I farm both in dry and rainy seasons, I also rare livestock. Despite all the challenges we face, including lack of inputs, our biggest worry are the middle men. 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 percent citing the access road as an excuse, we are left with no choice than to sell to them that way. I heard there is this thing called digital, we wish we can be provided with that even if it’s that alone to enable us sell our products directly.”
Bilkisu’s allusion to the access road that leads to her farm in Chimadara area of the state is not just a mere say. About 9km away from the state capital, passing through Rungumau, Kwaimawa, Kudai 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 heatin up the sandy desert making accesstiring, hot and dehydrating.
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 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 continue the journey,” Bilkisu recounts.
When asked if she has ever received any form of support in terms of farming inputs and agricultural loans as a woman farmer to boost her trade, Bilkisu who went into farming because she had no job after graduating, revealed that she was not even aware such initiatives exist.
“I am married in the state capital, I should know if anyone aides the women farmers but no one have ever helped us. Sometimes when we don’t have money to farm, we borrow and pay back after harvesting our farm produce and selling them off,” Bilkisu confirms.
She stated further those only men farmers get the intervention that comes and they in turn sell to the women at a low price.
“If we were getting direct interventions, our output will far surpass what we are producing now,”
Bilkisu started farming by borrowing piece 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 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 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.
“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, we fell down severally on the road, 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, even fertilizers we take on credit,” she narrated.
Bilkisu said that a lot of women have farms but could not 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, adverse whether effects, and even loss. There was a time a time I encountered a huge loss that almost made me gave up on farming. I am still paying that debt,” she recalled.
She stated that in terms of capacity building, agricultural extension workers usually come to interview them but nothing comes out of it.
For Maryam Mohammad, a smallholder women farmer who cultivates about four acres of land in Dutse Local Government, her situation is not that different from Bilkisu’s. However, she decried the effect of the COVID19 pandemic on their farming activities coupled with the fact that they have challenges assessing the market.
“COVID19 really affected us. Fertilizers disappeared and where we are able to get some their prizes were outrageously high so our crops suffered. Even our livestock were affected by the pandemic. Despite all this, we still farm but our main challenge is even that we don’t know how to sell after harvesting,” she said.
Maryam does not do dry season farming, which she attributes to lack of implement some of which include seedlings, irrigation machine, irrigation pipes among others.
Unlike Bilkisu who is farming on an inherited land, Maryam who farms Guinea Corn, Millet, Rice and Beans, was given her own piece of farming land by her husband.
Located about South West of Dutse through Minari, Sarari, Jigawar Tsado and then Sakwaya, the road to Maryam’s farm is not as rough as that of Bilkisu’s and the security situation is fair, she says. But lack of manpower, farming inputs and implements is limiting their potentials.
“Only men get loans here, we don’t. it was only one lady I know that ever got such loan and it was even because she used the name of a man to enter,” Maryam said.
With a 2021 budgetary allocation of N280.31 billion accounting for 2.06 percent of the agricultural sector budget, agriculture‐financing situation in the country remains a far cry from the prescribed standard set by the 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security pegged at 10% of its member countries’ annual National Budget.
This is despite agriculture being the sector with the largest employer oflabour in the country, providing jobs for more than one‐third (34.65 percent) of the Nigerian labour force, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
However, the Mass Agricultural Programme conceived under the President Muhammadu Buhari post COVID19 Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), is targeted to span the entire agricultural value chain from farm to ‘table’ with an estimated cost of N634.98billion- the largest share of the critical projects in the plan. The programme is expected to bring 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, fertilizers, pesticides, as well as extension services, storage to mitigate post‐harvest losses and equipment.
Interestingly, none of the women farmer interviewed in Dutse,Hadejia, Ringim, Kiyawa or Gumel Local Government Area have received any form of support through government schemes to boost their farming.
Some of them uses their 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.
The Jigawa State Commissioner for Agriculture, Colonel Muhammad Alhassan, a retired army officer, said the State is not neglecting women farmers as perceived, noting that over 49,000 women has been empowered with livestock since the current administration.
He however decried dubious activities of some individuals who would 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 opportunity in prevalent government programs, so we try to filter such people out, otherwise we have been supporting women as much as we can, sometimes they give me proposal, I guide them on how to write it and so on,” the Commissioner said.
He however buttressed that, irrespective of gender, his Ministry usually get memos from Local Government authorities, detailing all their needs, thereby guiding the state to intervene appropriately.
The attitude of Jigawa state towards agriculture is not farfetched, recall that in October 2019, Jigawa state governor, Muhammad Badaru had 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’re still far below the standard we have to push to improve agriculture significantly and make our agricultural produces competitive worldwide,” governor Badaru had said then.
For Dr. Nafiu Bala Sanda, and Agricultural Etymologist in the Department of Crop Protection, Bayero University Kano, the solutions to some of this myriad of challenges lies in agritech.
Dr. Sanda who opined that the current Federal Administration has done much in terms of farming inputs, 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 them divert it? That is why its not surprising when these women are not getting the inputs they should especially from the federal government,” he lamented.
As for climate change, he insists 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 softwares 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
Women farmers constitute over 60% of the agriculture labour force and provide inputs and functions that are critical to agriculture. They carry out about 80% of agricultural production, 60% of agricultural processing activities and 50% of animal husbandry and related activities, yet women have access to less than 20% of agricultural assets.
Hence, the Small-scale Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON) has in its latest charter of demand called for access to free and subsidized farming inputs, grant support, gender friendly machineries, storage facilities and adequate community policing for smallholder women farmers in Nigeria.
If realized, for farmers like Bilkisu and Maryam, it will not only make a huge difference for their occupation but will go a long way to inspire more women farmers thereby enhancing food security and the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), by extension.
Jigawa is a farming state with more than 80percent of its inhabitants engaged in agriculture.