Binta Mukhtar, 58, a mother of six, cultivates a variety of crops in Kano. In this fourth part of our new interview series on women in agriculture, Ms Muktar shares her experience with PREMIUM TIMES.
PT: What crops do you cultivate?
Muktar: I cultivate rice, sesame seeds, millet and guinea corn.
PT: How long have you been cultivating crops?
Muktar: I have been farming for five years now.
PT: Why did it take you so late to start cultivating?
Muktar: Well, that was when I had the time. I am married and so it depends on where my husband is being posted to. But now he’s a retired person and we have gone back to my home state so I have the opportunity to do what I want to do now.
PT: Many cultures in Nigeria do not actually give women land so whose land do you use?
Muktar: I use my own personal land. I acquired it, which is 73 hectares
PT: Where do you get seeds to crop 73 hectares?
Muktar: I buy my seeds from the National Seeds Council and there are lots of research institutes in Kano like ICRISAT, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, (IITA) and Africa Rice; that’s where I get my seeds from.
PT: How did you select your crops for cultivation?
Muktar: I chose these few because the market is there already. I am from the northern part of Nigeria and we mostly use rice; well rice is a national crop, but maybe guinea corn and millet is specific to the northern part of Nigeria, so we have to do something for economic reasons.
PT: Do you use improved seeds?
Muktar: Well, I’ll say yes they are improved seeds because if you don’t have the right quality of seed you are going to lose your money automatically.
PT: You farm 73 hectares of land, do you use machines?
Muktar: Yes I do. I use tractors, but then when it comes to harvesting, I don’t have any harvesting machines. I use labour, human labour.
PT: The machines you use, do hire them or are they yours?
Muktar: Luckily for me, my brother, who is also a farmer, helps me with his machines.
PT: You said you use labours for harvesting, are your children part of the labour?
Muktar: Yes. My fourth child.
PT: Why only your fourth child?
Muktar: Because the others are not available as they are married and have gone.
PT: So what is your average yield from each of these crops?
Muktar: This year, we didn’t harvest the whole 73 hectares, we harvested 11 hectares of the farm. We were able to harvest 340 bags of rice. For millet we didn’t have much as it didn’t do well because I think there was too much rain towards the end of the season and millet doesn’t like much rain around it. We got just about four bags even though we planted about a hectare of it. For paddy rice it is written 100kg but we got 75 – 80kg.
PT: Recent security challenges in the north have affected farmers. How are you coping under the situation?
Muktar: Well, it didn’t affect me like last year – I really didn’t do much to be honest. But this year I braved it up, I went to the farm and it was okay and I’m lucky to say Kano State is relatively safe in terms of security.
PT: Some states like Kebbi and Jigawa for example had flooding that cost farmers lots of their outputs. Were you affected by floods?
Muktar: No, I wasn’t affected by the flood but by insects and water and then we end up using much more than the amount of herbicides and insecticides we use to protect the crops.
PT: We are entering the dry season and Nigeria is trying to practice irrigation farming. So how do you hope to cope in this season?
Muktar: I have already dug seven boreholes on the farm and there is an expansion work that stopped short of 450 metres from my farm and I believe I should benefit, being a female having that number of hectares. But unfortunately, I tried what I could but couldn’t benefit from it, so I’m going to rely on boreholes and drip irrigation which cost a lot of money.
PT: So you mentioned earlier that out of the 73 hectares you were only able to cultivate 11 hectares. Why?
Muktar: Because it’s not easy to farm. It costs a lot of money from the seedlings, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, the labours; so it’s a lot of money.
PT: How do you store your outputs?
Muktar: Well, luckily for me I have built a warehouse and I have these pallets. It is very important you store them and you don’t put them on the ground and you don’t put them against the wall because of dampness, and what have you, and you need to erect them. I store them in my warehouse on pallets right at the centre so that air will be circulated and they’ll not get bad.
PT: So do you sell all these products or consume some?
Muktar: Both. As I told you earlier, I always get improved certified seeds. So sometimes we become producer members of the Seeds Council of Nigeria. They supply you the seeds, even give fertilizers and then become the off takers. They give 10-15 per cent higher than the normal price you could have sold the crops because if you are selling as a seedling, it is more expensive than selling as grains.
PT: So, apart from selling to the seeds council where else do you sell?
Muktar: I have a small milling machine on ground which I bought. I have not used it or even installed it yet but we have a lot of rice processing machines in Kano. I take my grains there to process to the highest quality and then mostly I share the rest with family and friends and charity also, including giving to these IDPs in Borno State.
PT: How do you secure your farm?
Muktar: I cultivated the gum Arabic trees as the extreme of the land, they serve as fences.
PT: The gum Arabic, how do you sell the products?
Muktar: Not yet. I’ve been in operation for five years and it is this year we are hoping to start fruiting and I have not started cultivating the gum Arabic at the moment.
PT: Are there times you don’t sell off the quantity you want to sell?
Muktar: No, as you said that there’s flooding this year, so there might be scarcity of rice in particular and people are really looking to buy the products off.
PT: You said your husband has retired, does he support you in any way?
Muktar: Of course, without the support of your husband you will not be able to achieve anything and also the freedom given.
PT: Have you gotten any other support from the government?
Muktar: I’ve never gotten any support to be honest with you, but I know some persons in Kano receive support from the government.
PT: Have you benefited from any palliative?
PT: Have you experienced discrimination as a woman farmer?
Muktar: Even looking at some associations like National Association of Gum Arabic Processors and Exporters OF Nigeria, (NAGAPEN), not a single woman is represented in the association. There is discrimination in every angle.
PT: Generally, are women in agriculture in your state harassed because of their gender?
Muktar: No. Women are taken into these things especially these research institutes that I’ve told you about.
PT: For these five years, what is your biggest challenge?
Muktar: Finance. Farming is a very expensive venture and that’s why I was not able to cultivate even half of the farm. And sometimes by my religious teaching, even when this kind of support comes in, there’s interest and I cannot access it. But with the coming of Jaiz bank now on board with interest-free palliative, maybe.
PT: Where do you see change in the nearest future for women in agriculture?
Muktar: That’s a big one. I believe if women are encouraged and given the right support they deserve, then the whole society will be better for it. In terms of accessing finance, even for lay people, it’s not easy. Normally, most of these things are tailored towards the elites.
That’s my own belief, but I may be wrong. The sooner we simplify these things and remove all these bureaucratic bottlenecks the better for all of us.
In Kano, I can say they are trying because I have seen them holding meetings and even I’ve seen these institutions in Kano really trying very much for women. I really appreciate ICRISAT, IITA, Africa Rice and Agricultural Transformation Agenda Programme (ATAP). Even though I didn’t benefit from them, I think other women have benefited from them. But I for one have not benefited from any palliative or support in any form.
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