Jeremiah Yunanna ekes out a living as a smallholder farmer planting maize, beans, yam and other crops in Byazhin, a rural community in the Kubwa outskirts of Abuja. But Mr Yunanna said life has become harder for himself and members of his family due to dwindling yields from his farm and the rising cost of living in Nigeria. He said he had been unable to reverse his situation because every time that he pursued government financing programmes, his efforts had been futile.
“I have been a farmer in this community for more than 30 years and I have never received any form of agricultural credit,” the 53-year-old said. “I pursued it in 2013 and paid for everything I was asked to pay. In short, I spent about N70,000, yet I was unable to access the loan.”
More than ever before, farmers are feeling the impact of lack of access to agricultural credit. High inflationary pressure in the country means that the small returns that sustain people like Mr Yunanna and his family is getting eroded, with ripple effects on routine agricultural activities. Unable to access loans, many farmers are becoming poorer.
Agricultural credits are loans made available for farmers to start or expand their agricultaural businesses. The loan, which is designed for agricultural development, finances farmers or ranchers as they plant crops, buy tools, harvest, or do other things to upscale their farming business. But Mr Yunanna said many farmers, especially small-holder farmers in rural areas, do not enjoy the intervention programmes.
“I don’t have money to expand my farming business, and this has made things difficult for me and my family,” Mr. Yunanna said. “We struggle to feed because I cannot afford fertilizer or improved seedlings which would have improved my yields. For instance, I have not been feeling well for some months now, but I cannot go to the hospital because I don’t have money.”
More Nigerians are slipping into the poverty net as a result of the high cost of living, skyrocketed food prices and the attendant inflationary pressure. Figures released by Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the inflation rate in Nigeria grew to 21.09 per cent in October, a 0.32 per cent increase from the 20.77 per cent recorded in the previous month. Food inflation was recorded at 23.72 per cent for the same month.
NBS said in a report in November that 133 million Nigerians were living in poverty, representing 63 per cent of the country’s population, and that multidimensional poverty is higher in the rural areas where 72 per cent of people are poor, compared to 42 per cent in urban areas. Many of those captured in the poverty net are smallholder farmers in rural communities.
According to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, 19.4 million Nigerians were projected to experience acute hunger between June and August 2022. The report also said over 14 million people (including 385,000 refugees) were already facing hunger in 21 states at the time. For farmers, the impact of interminably rising costs is made worse by their low capital base and inability to access funding.
Data obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) stated that the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (ACGSF), one of the loan schemes for farmers introduced by the federal government in 1977, had facilitated a total of 1,224,795 loans valued at N129.084 billion to farmers across the country as of February 2022. Also, the CBN data shows that as of January 2021, banks under the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), another credit scheme with the mandate to strengthen the agricultural sector by providing finance to the sector’s value chain (production, processing, storage and marketing), had disbursed N672.9 billion in loans to fund 636 commercial farming projects.
However, farmers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said even when government created intervention programmes to support local farmers, the grants or loans do not get to the real farmers in the local communities.
And according to data released by ActionAid, a non-governmental organisation working in Nigeria to tackle poverty and injustice, less than 23 per cent of smallholder farmers in Nigeria have access to agricultural credit.
In November 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari said the Anchor Borrowers Programme, which he launched in 2015 to boost agricultural production, create jobs, and reduce food import bills for the conservation of the foreign reserve, supported over 4.8 million smallholder farmers across Nigeria to boost the production of 23 agricultural commodities.
But Mr Yunanna and many other local farmers in Byazhi told this reporter that they did not benefit from the intervention programmes. Mr Yunanna said even after they took the advise to form or join a cooperative group to be able to access the loans, they still could not get the facility.
“Right now I cannot do much on the farm because of the severe waist pain I am experiencing. I wanted to employ more hands or even bring machines to the farm, but there is no money to do any of those,” he added.
The inability of smallholder farmers in local communities to access credit has made them more susceptible to the rising costs of living just as many struggles with malnutrition, ulcer among others as a result of hunger and related concerns.
According to Louise Milan, Head of the Screening Unit at the Byazhi Primary Health Centre, the number of ulcer cases recorded at the facility was increasing on a daily basis.
“Recently, the rate of patients with ulcer cases we received every day in this facility is alarming. We received at least 13 to 15 cases of ulcer every day,” Ms Milan said.
“Cases of ulcers in the body are associated with poor feeding habits, so I feel many of them here in this community are not feeding well.”
Other farmers not better off
Juliet Ebere, a poultry farmer in the neighbouring Gbazango community, said she had never obtained agricultural credit.
“I have been looking for an agricultural loan or grant from the government, but I have not been successful despite trying repeatedly,” Mrs Ebere said.
“I want to expand my poultry farm but I don’t have money to do so. I have reduced the size of the farm due to the high cost of poultry feed. My poultry business is what has been supporting the family but now, nothing much is coming out from the business.”
Another poultry farmer in Byazhin who identified herself simply as Mrs Anthony said she would also like to access agricultural credit.
“I need the loan so much brcause it will help me to expand my business so I can support my home. Things are very difficult nowadays, the business is not moving like before because of the high cost of animal feed. Initially, I used to have 500 or more birds on my farm. But now, I don’t even have enough money to feed the family, so I have downsized it to 200 birds and some are dying,” Mrs. Anthony said.
Augustine Ekpo, another farmer producing yam, vegetables and other crops in the community, said he used to make at least N50,000 monthly from the sale of vegetables alone when he had money to support his farm. However, he said the output has diminished due to lack of financial support.
Mr Ekpo, a farmer and father of six, also he had tried on a number of occasions to access a loan to expand his farm.
“I have been a farmer for over 16 years now but I have never received any agricultural loan or fertilizer to support my farming business,” he said. “I tried repeatedly but I could not get it. There was a time that the government officials came to the community, gave me a forms to fill, and even took pictures of the farm. I waited but I did not see anything.”
High impact, low reward
Smallholder farmers produce the bulk of the food in low-income and developing countries and form the backbone of food security. A 2017 survey of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) showed that more than 80 per cent of farmers in Nigeria are smallholders.
The President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, said improved access to credit will also improve food production in the country.
“Ready access to credit will definitely help to optimise the productivity of smallholder farmers and the absence of it can affect the productivity adversely,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
He urged the CBN to review its agricultural intervention scheme to meet the goal of the scheme.
“There are some windows from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but they must be reappraised to reach the real farmers directly if the situation must change for the better,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
“This story was supported by the Africa Data Hub (ADH)”
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