Ihuoma Chijioke is a smallholder farmer in Abuja. Ms Chijioke is a cassava processor; she also grows rice, maize and owns a poultry with about 500 birds.
On her three hectares of land, she rents tractors to assist her on the farm. In this episode of our Women in Agriculture, Ms Chijioke shares her experience.
PT: Can you put us through your journey in agriculture?
Ms Chijioke: I started farming about 16 years ago, when I had nothing to do. I started with a poultry farm, but after graduation from university, there was no job forthcoming so I had to improve and start crop farming. Then I went into cassava farming and processing too, I realised if you are just planting and selling, you won’t have much gain. I went on training on how to process ‘ijebu’ garri and high quality cassava flour. I went to train under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development at the University of Agriculture Umudike, Abia State. I went for the training because I felt I needed to improve my knowledge on cassava production.
Before the training, I was only making ‘fufu and garri’ but after the training, I learnt it can be produced into other things. So, I started processing high quality cassava flour and I sell it to individuals, bakeries, eateries and supermarkets. In 2018, I stopped cultivating cassava because of herders, they ate up the crops. Currently, I grow rice and maize.
PT: After you started farming because you could not get a white collar job, have you been able to get the job?
Ms Chijioke: No I haven’t, I am still a farmer.
PT: When you started farming, how were you able to raise capital for the farm?
Ms Chijioke: I started poultry with the capital I got from my husband, while the cassava farm wasn’t difficult. I started the poultry farm with N30,000 then the cassava with N10,000.
PT: You use land for all your activities and this is a big issue for women, how did you get the land you use?
Ms Chijioke: I rent lands for a period of one year. I pay N5,000 for that period. I don’t own any land, presently, I have about 2-3 hectares of land.
PT: How are you able to overcome challenges, challenges of seeds, fertilizers and herbicides?
Ms Chijioke: That’s the problem of every farmer, you have to buy fertilizer, seeds and chemicals and nobody may likely support you. Like last year, I lost some part of my rice farm to weeds because of COVID-19. I could not go out to buy chemicals that I would have sprayed to prevent the weeds and there was no help coming from anywhere. Sometimes it can be fertilizer, other times it will be labour and chemicals. There are times I may not find labourers, so I do it myself.
I buy seeds from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and AfricaRice because the seeds in the market are not trustworthy, some are not viable. If you want four months, they mix it with three months and give you, when you plant it, you have different produce.
Another problem I had was the cassava stem, the yield was very low so by the time I did the first, second and third sets, they were not yielding as expected, so I had to buy cassava stem from IITA.
For fertilizer, I buy from the market but I combine both organic and inorganic fertilizer.
PT: Associations help farmers have access to government services, do you belong to any association?
Ms Chijioke: Yes, I belong to many associations, I belong to the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), Association of Agro Producers, Cassava Farmers Association, Nigerian Cassava Growers Association. Infact, SWOFON benefited from the inputs the government gave out to women farmers in the FCT.
PT: Since you no longer cultivate cassava, do you still produce the flour?
Ms Chijioke: Yes I do, but I buy cassava from Kogi State.
PT: Let’s talk about the market for your produce, do you have a stable market for them?
Ms Chijioke: Yes, I have a stable market for my rice, cassava and poultry. I sell the maize in Gwagwalada market.
PT: The government has rolled out policies to assist farmers fight food insecurity, what can you say about the policies?
Ms Chijioke: The Anchor Borrowers Programme, I will tell everybody that cares to listen that it is for some farmers, not for everyone, you cannot tell that there is an ABP and I will meet government to partake in the program, I will get the off takers and beg them to guarantee me. I will look for companies that will supply chemicals and inputs, I don’t have that kind of time. A rural farmer doesn’t have that kind of time and that is why it cannot push. The only people that have that kind of time are farmers that don’t have farms. Once they go for the ABP, they will give them what they want because they are the only ones that can keep to the policies.
When the government gives them the money they spend it on other things and will never refund it. If the government wants the ABP to work, they should bring off takers, not me. Then , they can monitor the process. I don’t even know who to meet, before the person will agree there will be a percentage for the person. The ABP is not for rural farmers.
PT: Climate Change is a global issue, it is believed to have contributed to farmers clashes with herders, what suggestions will you do as solutions to the problem?
Ms Chijioke: It has affected farmers so much, infact by this time other years, we are supposed to be done with planting the FCT. What we should be talking about now is weeding. Now, we don’t even know what we are doing. I wanted to till the ground, I went to meet a tractor man that will help me till the ground, he said the ground is still hard so he won’t be able to till it. He left.
It has rained a few times this year and that is the climate change we are talking about. The climate change is really affecting us and erosion carries the crops when the rain is heavy.
As a rice farmer, if there is not enough water in the soil, we cannot farm rice. We have not done anything about rice now.
The government should give early warning to farmers, it will help. They should inform farmers about floods and areas it should occur or plants that can withstand floods. The government can also construct tanks or drainage systems that will store water during floods so during the dry season, we can use it for irrigation farming.
PT: You mentioned using a tractor on your farm, do you use other machines and human labour?
Ms Chijioke: I use just a tractor which I pay between N30,000-N35,000 per hectare. I use my children and other labourers on the farm. If it is planting, I can use 10 people, then for weeding the farm, 20 people then if I want to make heaps then I will use like 20 people. My husband gives me moral support.
Their pay depends on what they are going to do, like weeding for a hectare of land I pay between N15,000 and N20,000 collectively then I feed them. For making heaps, I pay N20 per heap. The last one I did, I paid N72,000.
PT: On a scale of preference, what would you say is the most important thing you need as a farmer ?
Ms Chijioke: I need capital because farming is capital intensive not like when we started 16 years ago. If you don’t have up to N100,000 you cannot even start. If there is a way the government can subsidise chemicals, it makes our work easier. I need a processing unit because I am into processing especially for rice so I can produce like Dangote.
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