More than 80 per cent of farmers in Nigeria are smallholder farmers. These set of farmers play a dominant role in terms of contributing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The smallholder farmers are said to be main producer of 98 per cent of the food consumed in the country. In spite of this, no policies, legislation, or institutional intervention of government have specifically addressed the dilemma of small-scale farmers.
Most of the farmers are rural dwellers and 65 per cent of them still use the crude method of farming because the successive governments have neglected them.
Notably among their challenges are poor access to credit, lack of quality seeds, infrastructure, an outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land of 1.8 hectares farming, low level of irrigation development and access to mechanisation.
Also, limited adoption of research findings and high cost of farm inputs, inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution.
Storage ideas and facilities have not improved and thus losses incurred from postharvest handling are still very high; access to markets has remained a recurring headache making the idea of farming very unattractive to most people in the rural areas.
However, Daily Sun investigation revealed that smallholder farmers are now abandoning their farms for commercial motorcycle business popularly called okada while the women are now shifting focus to other petty trade like, puff-puff, akara among others.
One of the small-scale farmers, Badejo Olateru, who spoke to Daily Sun recently at Oke-Erio in Ekiti State, said that he abandoned his cassava farm for Okada riding business.
“I can’t continue going to farm everyday and at the end of the day, I won’t have something tangible to show for it and my labour is more than the gain. I farm with my two hands and I make use of cutlass and hoe.
But when it is time to harvest, it is either I don’t get buyers or our people here buy my cassava at a cheaper rate. I used the little money I was able to realised to buy this motorcycle.”
“Farmers are not getting support from anybody. We don’t have access to inputs because we don’t have the money to buy fertilizer, except few people.
We don’t have access to good seeds. As for me, I don’t use fertilizer because I can’t afford it but I relied on the soil nutrient.
Whatever yield I get, is what I take. With my Okada, I’m taking something home everyday and I make a daily contribution, which I redeem at the end of month.”
In reality, smallholder farmers are just struggling to survive because there is no right policy that supports their sustainability and no favourable operating environment for them to thrive.
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Stakeholders said governments at various level should encourage the participation of private sectors in supplying farm inputs to ensure constant and apt supply.
Nigerian Agricultural Extension System should also be overhauled by funding arrangement to provide mobility, training, incentives and institutional support so that it will increase its services to farmers to improved production, among others.
In other to address the challenges affecting these farmers, the British America Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), since its inception in 2002, has supported the Federal and state government in agricultural development programme and has invested about N1.5 billion in supporting rural smallholder farmers in the production of foods crops, like cassava, rice and maize, as well as in aquaculture and livestock.
Speaking during the 2018 World Food Day at Lagos Farm Fair, Exectuve Director of BATNF, Abimbola Okoya, said the Foundation has reached out to over 36,000 farmers, adding that by 2022, its target is to support 62,000 rural farmers.
She said a business opportunity exists for smallholder farmers to raise their incomes by moving from subsistence to commercial agriculture, but they face several constraints.
She explained: “Since high value agricultural commodities are perishable, there is significant volatility in their prices, and thus significant market risk.
In addition, small-scale farmers have low volumes of marketable surplus and their farms are mostly located in remote areas with poorly developed infrastructure and transportation, leading them to face high transaction costs and risks in production and marketing of such commodities.”
“As a country, Nigeria should not be significantly affected by hunger because we are blessed with arable farmland, fertile and suitable to grow food crops.
For example, we are one of the largest producers of cassava, yam, millet, sweet potato, cashew nuts and groundnuts.
But a significant portion of these produce are either wasted or lost due to poor agricultural practices or limited access to markets.
And rightfully so, because over 70 per cent of our farm produce are cultivated by rural smallholder farmers who grow subsistence or cash crops and rely almost exclusively on family labour,” she explained
According to her, the scale and rudimentary method of farming, makes it difficult for these farmers to access credit facilities to upscale their production or compete in the modern food value chain.
With poor access to infrastructure, inputs and markets, she said the farmers are one of the most vulnerable groups in the value chain system.
She said this called for concerted efforts from all players in agricultural sector, including the government, private sector, farmers, agricultural associations and others to work in harmony to address the challenges facing small-scale farmers to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition in the country.
To achieve zero hunger, Okoya said that the BATNF would continue to support programmes that target those living in rural communities, promote pro-poor investments and drive national policies that ensure food security.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Mr. Festus Cornelius said that government should work hard in the area of improving agriculture policies, saying that policy summersault has been the biggest challenge in the agricultural sector.
He said there is need for 70 per cent of the agriculture investments in budgets as well as in any intervention facilities at federal and state levels to be set aside for small-scale farmers and small-scale agriculture, with the aim of making small-scale agriculture commercially viable, and increasing their income.
He bemoaned the low-level agricultural extension services in the country, adding that government needs to train and retrain more extension officers and increase the agric extension projects across the country.
He said there is need for governments at all level to focus more on small-scale farmers by providing necessary inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, chemicals and the rest at a subsidised rate.
He also urged government to work with more private sectors, foundations and other relevant agencies to empower rural farmers in order to reduce poverty and hunger.