ustapha Lawal has been involved in dry season farming for over a decade during which he has mostly faced the same challenges: insufficient water, lack of support from government and ever rising prices of pesticides, fertiliser and seeds.
This year, his main problem is water. He has prepared his farmland, bought seeds and fertiliser but officials at the Jibia dam in Katsina State have not released water to enable dry season farmers start working.
“We have waited for over a month now for the water but as you can see, there is nothing,” the middle-aged Mr Lawal said. “If they don’t give us water in the next few days, we will not be participating in this year’s dry season farming because it will be late by then.”
But insecurity has also been a major challenge for the farmers. According to Muhammad Marzuku, a farmer, banditry is crippling the sector in Katsina State.
Dry season farming
armers engage in dry season farming, which depends on irrigation, to complement their produce from the rainy season and augment their proceeds.
In most northern Nigeria states, vegetables are mostly produced in the dry season and a little after the wet farming season. But over the years, farmers have been facing challenges due to several factors.
Over the course of the last two weeks in January, PREMIUM TIMES spoke to dozens of dry season farmers across four local government areas of Katsina State on how these challenges have affected food production in recent years.
Most of the farmers spoken to produce vegetables including tomatoes, pepper, bell pepper, onion, potatoes, cassava and garden egg.
Myriads of challenges
REMIUM TIMES gathered that while the farmers have common challenges like water scarcity, high cost of pesticides, lack of support from government or the financial sector, farmers in Jibia and Dutsin Ma local government areas of Katsina State are also grappling with insecurity.
Terrorists, who are locally called bandits, have been unleashing mayhem on the Nigerian north-west for over a decade. The crisis has displaced people especially in rural areas where agriculture is mostly practised.
Farmers are the worst hits as most of the rural dwellers are farmers. A recent investigation by PREMIUM TIMES showed the gravity of the misery that the crisis has inflicted on farmers, especially in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger states.
In Katsina State, Dutsin Ma and Jibia are among the most vulnerable areas, resulting in farmers being unable to take advantage of the Zobe (Dutsin Ma) and Jibia dams located in the areas. Farmers face the risk of being killed or kidnapped every day that they go to their farms.
“It’s a tricky situation because we have had cases of abduction not once or twice,” Mr Marzuku, a large-scale tomato, cucumber and cabbage farmer in Jibia told PREMIUM TIMES. “Before the situation escalated, people from villages were coming here to get baskets of tomatoes or cucumbers, but most of the villages have been deserted. Even for us, we can’t ask drivers to come from Katsina to take our goods because they will say it is not safe for them to come this far.”
Mr Marzuku said it is no longer safe to go frequently to the farm since the terrorists have their camps close to the dam.
But the nature of his crops makes it compulsory for him to go to his farm every day. “Vegetables require constant watering and monitoring but that is impossible with these bandits around,” he said.
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector have warned that the terrorists’ attacks will lead to poor food production in Nigeria.
“The first implication of these attacks is a reduction in the number of farmers. Farmers cannot go to their farms,”Sulaiman Iguda, a lecturer at the Basic Applied Science department, Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Prices of pesticides and fuel soar
armers around the famous Ajiwa dam in Batagarawa Local Government Area who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES also complained of soaring prices of pesticides and fuel.
This reporter was conducted round several farms in Kazomawa village close to the dam. Several vegetables especially tomatoes, pepper and bell pepper, had been eaten by insects while others were wilting.
The water level in the dam has dropped and the release alloted to the farmers also got reduced. But unlike farmers around Jibia and Dutsin Ma dams, those around Ajiwa dam said they get waste water every day but not as much as they need.
When this reporter asked why some of the crops had wilted, Ibrahim Abdullahi, another farmer, said most of the farmers could not buy enough pesticides and fuel to power the water pumps.
“Fuel is N680 per litre and there is no single filling station in Ajiwa or its environ. We come with fuel from Katsina (main town). I was in this system of farming when we used to buy fuel at N90. It is difficult; sometimes we cannot access the fuel even at that high rate,” he said.
This, he said, means not every farmer could water their crops twice a day, while some find it difficult to even water it once. According to him, he spends about N4,000 on fuel every day.
Muhammad Bashar, 47, who has over 15 years of irrigation farming experience, echoed Mr Abdullahi’s remarks but added that fertiliser and pesticides are the two more problems they contend with.
“Price of fuel is our major problem, because we also have to spend money to look for the fuel at that price,” the garden egg, tomatoes and bell pepper farmer said. “Just like fuel, prices of fertiliser and pesticides are also high. Farming is not conducive in situations like ours but we don’t have options.”
The rising prices means many farmers cannot afford pesticides thereby leaving their farms at the mercy of insects. An abandoned 30 by 30 feet insect-infested farmland was shown by one of the farmers in Kazomawa. The owner is said to have abandoned the tomatoes and bell pepper because he could not afford to buy pesticides and fuel and also pay the owner of the farm.
Lawali Oga, who sprays pesticides for farmers in the community, said prices of most of the varieties had shot up in recent months. He said the farmers, being mostly poor, find it difficult to buy the pesticides and pay him for his service.
He said the prices have continued to increase even for those buying in bulk. “We have no option than to also increase the price. A product I bought at N500 seven months ago, I bought it for N750 last week.”
uring a visit to farms around Ajiwa dam, this reporter saw vast uncultivated farmlands in Kazomawa, Gajerar Giwa and Ajiwa communities. Farmers said several people are becoming frustrated with the system of farming.
“We are recording losses,” Abdulsalam Sani, a 36-year old farmer, said. “Several people abandoned their farms after they began planting. Last year, everyone in this area recorded a loss. Because of the naira redesign crisis, we were forced to sell our produce at cheap rates because if we ddidn’t sell, the produce would spoil. Most of us didn’t recover the money we invested not to talk of getting a profit.”
PREMIUM TIMES saw several “abandoned” farmlands in the areas.
Salisu Mansur, 35, estimated that 70 per cent of farmers recorded a loss due to the naira redesign policy and other issues, including insufficient water and inadequate fertiliser.
“We buy everything ourselves as if we don’t have a government,” Mr Mansur said. “The government should be providing fertiliser, pesticides and water pumps at subsidised rates to encourage us. But I will be happy if we could have solar powered generators to simplify our work because the fuel price is scary.”
Danja farmers await dam
armers in Danja Local Government Area, one of the highly agrarian areas in Katsina State, are waiting for the completion of the Danja earth dam initiated by former Governor Aminu Masari.
Several dry season farmers are lamenting inadequate water while the construction continues.
“We use tube wells and dug wells, but the wells always dry up quickly which makes it difficult for us to produce plenty goods and several of us continue to lose money,” Dalhatu Usman, a dry season farmer in the area, said.
He said last year when he planted tomato and bell pepper (tatashe) in his farm, he lost money when three of his wells dried up.
“I dug three wells at different times but all of them dried up because the water level is going lower. I lost over N250,000 last year alone and this year, it looks as if the same thing will be repeated,” he said.
Another farmer, Malam Ali, said several farmers have stopped planting cabbage, onion and cassava because of the drying nature of the place.
“May be when the dam is completed, we will resume planting other vegetables and crops but cabbage and onion need water, and sometimes due to the lack of water and other equipment, we end up losing what we planted,” Mr Ali said over the phone.
We’ll provide water as usual
hen contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, the Jibia Dam Manager, Badamasi Abubakar, said water would be provided to the farmers as usual.
Mr Badamasi said last year, irrigation farming began on 21 February, saying it may start earlier this year.
“We have some challenges too,” he said over the phone. “The state government has bought a new generating set though it is the responsibility of the federal government to do that. Now, the generating set needs to be installed and we also need fund to service other equipment, buy lubricants and buy diesel. We have forwarded that request and it will be sorted out as usual,” he said.
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