Unarguably, peasant smallholder farmers produce large chunk of Nigeria’s food items. Indeed, experts put their contribution at 90 per cent.
They say that the farmers are capable of satisfying the country’s food needs, except in rice production, which they are yet to meet national consumption demand. They also say that smallholder women farmers dominate the production of consumables, while most of the commercial farmers and foreign investors in the agricultural sector concentrate in the cultivation of export cash crops.
The stakeholders insist that women smallholder farmers are key players in the national food security programme, and must be assisted to boost their productivity.
They claim that women farmers do not only produce perishable items such as pepper and tomatoes, but also grow cassava, soya beans, maize, yam among others.
They, however, bemoaned the way women farmers were treated, noting that the farmers were not provided with adequate incentives.
At a meeting held recently in Ilorin to discuss issues on communal land and other issues affecting smallholder women farmers’ access to land, stakeholders accused the government of favouring big time farmers, while neglecting the smallholders.
The Centre convened the meeting for Community Empowerment and Poverty Eradication (CCEPE), in partnership with Actionaid Nigeria.
Participants were drawn from farmers’ associations in Kwara, particularly Smallholder Women Farmers Association of Nigeria (SHOWFAN) and government ministries, departments and agencies.
Mr Azubike Nwokoye, Actionaid Food and Agriculture Advisor, who spoke, decried government’s preference to assist big-time investors in the agricultural sector.
He noted that in some instances, government gives a moratorium of between 10 years and 15 years with low bank interest rates to such investors, neglecting the small holder farmers.
Nwokoye said, “Smallholder farmers especially women farmers who produce the bulk of the food we consume in Nigeria are neglected.
“That is why we must put all hands on deck to protect them ; that is why we must resist the rich from forcefully and illegally grabbing our land from us.”
Mrs Iyabo Babatunde, a member of SHOWFAN from Asa Local Government Area of Kwara, who also spoke, urged the federal, state and local governments to assist women farmers secure land for food cultivation and financial assistance to purchase farm implements.
She also complained of their crops being destroyed by cows of the Fulani herdsmen that graze on farmlands.
Many of the women that spoke also complained of the menace of the cows of the Fulani herdsmen and pleaded for urgent action to check the ugly incident.
Mr Muideen Abdulkadir, Director, Kwara Bureau of Lands, commended the organisers, adding that the bureau was ready to set aside land across the state for the smallholder women farmers.
He noted, however, that the state government had been supportive of farmers in the state, with programmes like “Operation Back to Farm” and “Offtaker Programme” of the state government.
Similarly, in a parley with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and National Resource, Elder Ayobola Samuel, an adequate recognition was sought for the women farmers.
At the meeting, Mr Abdulrahman Ayuba, a Senior Programme Officer with CCEPE, urged the ministry to always interact with women farmers, whom he described as primary stakeholders, during the preparation of the state annual budget.
He said: “This, in our own opinion will help in ensuring a more robust, pro-farmers and gender responsive agriculture budget.”
He called for gender-sensitive budgeting that would take care of the concerns and challenges of women farmers.
The NGO senior officer stated that he was optimistic that the needs of the women farmers would be incorporated in the subsequent budget of the state government.
In his response, Samuel hailed efforts of rural women farmers to boost food production, adding that a well fed person will not be susceptible to diseases.
He enjoined them to continue to live in peace with Fulani herdsmen, adding that government was already to look into the issues raised.
Samuel, who said that the ministry has a department for women farmers, added that agricultural production was always taken care of in the annual budget.
He also said that the state government had established agricultural malls, and enjoined women farmers to patronise the outfits.
The permanent secretary said the agro-mall would also provide the link or connection with relevant ministries, commercial banks and micro-finance banks.
He said that farmers would be assisted to obtain loans with low interest rates. Justifying the intervention in women farmers’ issue, Mr Abdulkareem Sulaiman, the Chief Executive Officer of CCEPE, stated that women farmers hold the key in solving the country’s food needs.
He explained that the partners wished to bring the “right holders and the duty bearers’’ together in order to chart new course for small-scale farmers.
“The right holders are the government while the duty bearers are the farmers. `
`We just brought them together so that the government and other stakeholders that are in charge of these women farmers would know their problems and challenges and how they can assist them so that they can produce more than what they are doing now,” he said.
All in all, the stakeholders believe that the rural women farmers should be incorporated in the various agricultural schemes in order to guarantee national food security.
– Usman Aliyu