As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages Nigeria and the rest of the world, the effect on food security may have to be properly addressed by all the three tiers of government to reduce the hardship associated with food scarcity.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Desalegn Boshe, warned that 80 million Africans risk extreme poverty if the COVID-19 response is not focused on food security, agribusiness and rural development.
The two statesmen warned that the continent could be the worst hit from the economic crisis unleashed by the pandemic as a result of the disruptions of the food ecosystem.
This scenario is playing out in the agriculture sector in Niger state where members of the Smallholders Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON) are faced with peculiar challenges in their quest to feed their families and the country.
The women from Suleja, Kontagora, Rijau, Paiko and Lavun Local Government Areas of the state shared their experiences with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Mrs Mary Hamzaranda, the state Coordinator SWOFON, said that the novel Coronavirus pandemic lockdown was preventing the farmers from going to their farms as security agencies stop and turn them back.
“The COVID-19 has prevented us from going to the farm; you know that some crops have a season. If you don’t cultivate them at the right time, they will not produce any meaningful thing for the season, then the investment is wasted.
“Our children no longer go to school, so they are just at home eating. They even eat more than three square meals per day because they are idle, while our husbands cannot go to work to earn money to cater for the family,” she said.
Hamzaranda, who is also the Coordinator of Kainyuwa Women Cooperative Society in Suleja local government of the state, said that under the COVID-19 movement restrictions, transportation was a challenge as few seen on free days increased their fares.
“We spend more money now transporting labourers, inputs and implements to the farm,” she said adding that the challenges caused by the pandemic have made the daily labourers who cultivate the land for the group to increase their charges.
The State Coordinator said the farmers have not received any palliative as a group or individually from the government since COVID-19 started.
Hamzaranda said that the Federal and state governments’ assistance for members of the organisation would enhance their activities and increase food production not only in the state but the country at large.
“We are poor subsistence farmers that pulled resources together due to inadequate funds. If we get any support from the government, in the form of loans, inputs and equipment it will help us to increase food production for our families and other Nigerians,” she said.
According to Hamzaranda, the women have resorted to farming on plots of land in residential areas as suspected bandits kidnap farmers and demand for ransom.
“The bandits also rape women and sometimes kill their victims when the ransom is not paid,” she said and decried a situation where herdsmen bring their livestock to graze on crops, causing farmers to lose their investments.
“Instead of you to challenge Fulani herdsmen, you run for your dear life. If you question them, you may be attacked,” she said.
The 30-member Suleja group cultivates rice, maize, soybeans and beans.
NAN reports that SWOFON, with over 10, 228 registered members in Niger State, is a coalition of women farmer groups across Nigeria, representing over 500,000 grassroots women farmers.
In Niger, the organisation has representations across the 25 Local Government Areas of the state and it serves as a forum for articulating the challenges and engagements of the women farmers whose contributions have assisted in the drive towards food security and sustainability.
To address the challenges faced by small scale farmers like the women in Niger due to the COVID-19, the federal government promised to provide some palliatives and announced some stimulus packages.
One of the measures targeted at farmers is the three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni, and FarmerMoni loans. Farmers who receive loans under the Social Intervention Program, SIP, would have a three-month breather before repaying.
Being women and mostly the breadwinners for their families, smallholder women farmers were expected to be beneficiaries of both the food distributed to households and the Conditional Cash Transfer, particularly, the additional one million households ordered by the President to be included in the National Social Register.
However, from the responses of the women, they had not benefitted from any of the support promised by the government and are unable to have yields like in past years.
Hajiya Aishatu Ahmed, Coordinator, Alheri Women Farmers Cooperative, Kontagora local government area said that the 20-member group who engaged in wet season farming waited for the rains to come, but the pandemic and its challenges is now a big threat to this year’s farming activities.
Ahmed said that the COVID-19 lockdown affected the socio-economic lives of the members negatively as the cost of living has increased.
“People cannot move freely anymore to avoid contracting the disease. There may be hunger next year if the COVID-19 is not tackled because our families are at home eating what we produced last season. The free movement allowed by the government is not enough to provide our family needs and also attend to our farms properly,” she said.
According to her, some of their husbands who go out daily to work and support the family and the farming activities can no longer move freely for fear of being arrested by security agencies.
“Some of the men now have no money to take care of their families as a result of no daily job during the COVID-19. What they do in the morning is that they go out leaving the women and children at home.
“No woman will want to see her children crying because of hunger, she must do something. You can see that life has not been easy with women and children under the COVID-19,” she said.
Ahmed said that during the 2019 harvest, suspected bandits and herdsmen stole farm produce from the farms, making farmers to lose their investments.
She said that the women never got any intervention and palliative from both the federal government and the state before and during the COVID-19.
“We were told to apply for government intervention and we did until now we have not seen anything,” she said.
Ahmed said that inadequate funding was affecting their farming activities as family members also feed on their farm produce leaving small quantity for sell.
She said that the women cultivate beans on over two hectares of land and harvests 40 bags of the commodity measuring 75kg each from the farmland.
She said that out of the beans, 30 bags were sold at N8,000 per bag and the proceeds invested in this year’s farming activities, while the balance of 10 bags was shared among members for consumption.
Ahmed said that there was a need to assist women farmers as they produce food for consumption and commercial purpose.
“We want the government to support us so that we can produce enough food for our families and for commercial purpose. We are trying our best as women farmers but we need financial assistance to expand our farmland and increase food production,” she said.