By Maharazu Ahmed
Katsina, Nov. 1, 2020 A cross section of Nigerian farmers in the North West have stated that poor returns on investment in the cultivation of food crops is forcing them to concentrate on cash crops to generate income, a News survey has shown.
The farmers and other stakeholders said abandonment of food crops such as Maize, Sorghum and Millet is largely due to low prices, which is not enough to cover what is spent during cultivation.
They suggest the establishment of commodity boards to protect farmers from middlemen and ensure better prices for food crops.
Malam Abba Muhammad, a large scale farmer in Katsina, said that he abandoned food crop farming because there is no gain in it.
Muhammad urged government to protect local farmers by finding markets for their produce, and help to checkmate the activities of the middlemen.
“The situation always throws the general populace including the local farmers into hunger and poverty, because the local farmers are forced by circumstances to sell their products to middlemen at give-away prices.
“I decided to opt for cash crops like cassava, sesame, wheat, ginger, cashew, orange, among others because manufacturing companies and industries need these as raw materials and they buy them at exorbitant prices,” he said.
However, another farmer in Katsina, Alhaji Bishir Yusuf said prices of food crops have increased in the current season and farmers are getting good rewards for their efforts.
“A 100 kg bag of maize sold between N8,000 and N10,000 before, is now sold between N14,000 to N16,000 depending on the location.
“Similarly, a 50 kg bag of local rice sold between N12,000 and N16,000 is now sold between N22,000 and N24,000.
“If the trend continues, more farmers will go into food crops production in the coming seasons,” Yusuf said.
Conversely, an agronomist, Malam Isma’il Dahiru told NAN that farmers are abandoning cultivation of food crops for cash crops because of so many difficulties and challenges.
Dahiru said these include lack of access roads, no access to markets and bank loans, lack of improved seedlings, absence of mechanization, inadequate research and extension services, among others.
The Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Katsina State Chapter, Alhaji Ya’u Gwajogwajo, said President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has good agricultural policies and programmes for farmers.
Gwajogwajo however, lamented that there is little support from banks in the country to complement the President’s efforts.
He advocated that banks should grant one-digit loan to farmers, while research institutes should support with new seedlings to boost agricultural production and achieve food security.
Prof. Mohammed-Faguji Ishiyaku, Executive Director, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria said the wish of the institute is for agriculture to be for food and money.
According to Ishiyaku, everything a farmer produces today is cash crop, because everyone would want to have a farm to grow enough rice, maize or sorghum to feed his family and sell for cash.
“Our wish generally is for all our agriculture to be for cash; cash for the farmer. Farmers should produce what they eat and sell to solve other family needs,’’ he said.
Ishiyaku added that agriculture for cash is in line with the Federal Government’s agenda on agriculture.
The director advised that efforts should be geared toward producing more to meet local consumption and for export.
He noted that the only way agriculture will eradicate poverty is by practising agriculture as a business.
“For instance, a liter of groundnut oil is more costly than a liter of petrol.
This indicates that there are commodities that generate more money than petrol, which further shows the enormous potentialities of the country to make more money from agriculture,’’ Ishiyaku said.
He reiterated that agriculture is for making food and generating income towards eradication of poverty.
Similarly, Alhaji Ahmed Abubakar, Manager, Maigana Zone of Kaduna State Agricultural Development Agency said food crops such as rice and maize are also cash crops because farmers are making money from it.
According to Abubakar, farmers are shifting to cash crops because they are making a lot of money than from food crops.
In a hectare of maize or rice farm, a farmer may realize about 50 bags to 70 bags of the produce which is about N500,000 to N700,000.
“Meanwhile, in a hectare of tomato farm, the farmer may get between N1 million naira to N1.7 million,’’ he said.
The official noted that cash crops farming is all year round, while food crops is seasonal, largely during the rainy season.
He added that farmers who produce vegetables such as chili, pepper, tomatoes and others, harvest the produce more than seven times, unlike food crops such as maize and guinea corn, which are harvested once in a season.
Abubakar said the common cash crops produced in the area, are beans, soya – beans, tomatoes, pepper, carrot, onions and cabbage, among others.
He however, warned that abandoning food crops for cash crops will hinder the achievement of food sufficiency for families and the nation.
Abubakar said vegetable farmers in the area are supported by organizations such as East-West Seed, and the German Government sponsored GIZ.
“They support farmers with improved agronomic practices in maize production and business,” he said.
As for Malam Dalhatu Aliyu, a farmer in Yaskwake Mai-Dabino, Zaria Local Government he said he is into mixed farming, cultivating both food and cash crops.
Aliyu said that he usually begins with onions, thereafter pepper, sweet potatoes, maize, okra, `Zobo’ and tomatoes.
He added that he has so far harvested pepper twice in the current season, while saying that maize and sweet potatoes can be harvested at any time.
Aliyu said mixed farming is giving him more money, adding that he uses the money realized from the onions to plant other crops and vegetables.
Meanwhile, Kano State Emergency Management Agency said that thousands of hectres of farmlands were lost to flooding in 27 local government areas of the state.
Mr Sale Jili, Executive Secretary, told NAN that
the Agency has conducted damage assessment and distributed relief materials to the affected persons.
“SEMA distributed relief materials such as food, non food items and building materials,” Jili said.
NAN reports that the flood submerged rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, millet, beans, tomato and vegetable plantations among others in the affected areas.
A rice miller in Kano, Zangina Muhammad, said the flood has exposed farmers to heavy losses.
Muhammad noted that thousands of hectres of rice fields become wilted due to the flood, a situation that he said will affect overall productivity.
He added that most of the farmers affected are beneficiaries of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) and Agro-Processing Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Support (APPEALS) project.
“The farmers were provided with fertilisers, seeds, chemicals and other inputs to encourage productivity.
“The projects were designed to encourage rice, wheat, tomato, maize, beans and sorghum production through farmer support services, value addition, as well as development of farmer enterprising skills,” Muhammad said.
Aminu Isa, a rice farmer, said farmers prefer cultivation of rice, wheat, tomatoes, water melon and other cash crops in view of its lucrative nature and available market.
Isa said that most farmers sell their produce before harvest time, adding that, “there are grain dealers who are willing to buy paddy and other produce before harvest.
“The trend is popular among farmers; it saves cost, you will no longer spend on preservation and packaging,” he said.
The farmer, however, said the devastating effects of flooding will make it difficult to repay loans to the ABP and APPEALS programmes.
Abdulkarim Kaita, Managing Director, Dangote Tomato Processing Plant, Kadawa, said the company in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has initiated farmer support services to encourage tomato production.
Kaita, who spoke at the distribution of inputs to 5,000 tomato growers in Kura LGA, said farmers received improved seeds to enable them to produce minimum of 40 tonnes per hectare.
He said his company also established a 350 – million – tonne capacity greenhouse to achieve self sufficiency in tomato production in the country.
“There are 12 major tomato producing states. When fully cultivated, Nigeria will be able to start exporting tomato in the coming years.
“It is the largest greenhouse in Africa, set up to provide tomato growers with high yield seeds to encourage productivity,” Kaita said.
Sani Yadakwari, Chairman, Kano State chapter of the Tomato Growers Association of Nigeria, said that each of the association’s 5,000 registered farmers received a total loan package of N551,000.
Yadakwari explained that the package include seeds, fertiliser, water pumps and other inputs.
He commended the Federal Government for the inclusion of tomato value chain in the ABP, adding that the gesture will go a long way to boost tomato production in the country.
In Kebbi State, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) said farmers lost more than N5 billion worth of farm produce to floods in 2020.
Alhaji Sani Dododo, the SEMA Chairman, appealed to the Federal Government to urgently assist the state in mitigating the effects of the disaster recorded.
“I want to use this medium to call on the Federal Government and international donor agencies, to come to the aid of Kebbi State Government and its people.
“This is so that we can massively engage in dry season farming to, at least cushion the effect of the losses incurred during this farming season.
“Our assessment showed that damage to rice plantations and other produce due to the flood could be more than N5 billion.
“The flood submerged more than 450,000 hectares of rice plantation in the lowland, and over 50,000 hectares of millet, sorghum, maize and sugarcane were also destroyed on the highlands,” Dododo said.
Badiya Abubakar, a female rice farmer, expressed the fear that the disaster recorded may scare farmers away next planting season.
“You know the secret of farming lies on one’s working capital. All smallholder farmers that constitute the majority of rice farmers in the state operate under the principle of ploughing back farming business.
“That is to say, the proceeds of the previous year is used to finance the next farming season,” Abubakar explained.
She said farmers must be re-mobilized to farms as quickly as the flood water recedes.
“Cash support at this time is necessary as that will enable the farmers to finance all requirements without having to look for a solution elsewhere which could lead to delay.
“Government must be aware that all post – flood support must be prompt as there is no time to waste,” Abubakar said.
An agriculturalist, Malam Nasiru Kwaifa, said the abolishing of marketing boards by government has caused losses to over 2.2 million farmers annually in Kebbi alone, who have no alternative than to sell their surplus products at give away prices.
“There is lack of agro-industries that will purchase the products to avoid gluts.
“Middlemen usually benefit more than the actual farmers by buying at cheaper rates from farmers and selling at exorbitant prices thereby causing hike in prices of foodstuffs,” Kwaifa said.
On elimination of off-takers, he said, “it is very feasible with a proper government intervention such as establishment of marketing boards and agro- allied industries closer to farmers”.
According to Kwaifa, the off-takers serve as intermediaries between rural farmers and wholesalers as local farmers do not have to transport their produce to far places for sale.
“The off-takers help farmers to prevent gluts even though they benefit more than the farmers.
“They cause price fluctuations and hike in prices, and some often adulterate the products after buying from the farmers in their bids to increase profits,” he noted.
The agriculturalist, however, asserts that the challenges in eliminating middlemen are many.
“Farmers will have to acquire means of transporting their produce, get proper storage and processing facilities.
“The lessons we should learn are, the statistics indicate acute and chronic levels of poverty among the rural farmers in the country.
“Government records low production of most crops and animals annually.
“Off-taking leads to rural-urban migration affecting the economy, while middlemen usually cause prices of goods and services to skyrocket,” Kwaifa said.
Alhaji Sani Dahiru, Zamfara Chairman of National Association of Cotton Farmers in Nigeria (NACOTTAN), also explained why farmers prefer cash crops farming.
“Cotton farming is a business, it is necessary for textile industries and cotton ginneries to perform effectively.
“Over 30,000 cotton farmers were registered to participate in cotton farming in the state, we are expecting more support from farmers and private organisations.
“As we all know, cash crops production apart from providing raw materials to industries, also generates employment opportunities, while adding value to the product and lives of farmers,” Dahiru said.
A maize farmer, Alhaji Sani Salisu said, “we have no other business than farming, we embrace cash crops farming because it has more value than only food crops”.
“I cultivate soya beans throughout the year, but I sell it to provide for my needs,” Salisu said.
A rice farmer, Mustafa Kaura, said the crop serves as food and cash crop.
“There is value for money when you cultivate rice,” Kaura added.
Alhaji Nura Attajidi, the Chairman of Sokoto State chapter of Small and Medium Scale Rice Millers, said in spite of challenges, the country will get it right in agriculture.
Attajidi expressed optimism that the ongoing government’s efforts to intensify food production in Nigeria will enhance the country’s economy.
“With the current trend, farming in the country is no longer for subsistence or hobby, it provides the needed elixir for most Nigerians who were hitherto mere consumers of foodstuffs, to become producers.
“In the same vein, the provision of financial support to Nigerian farmers via the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the Federal Government has greatly boosted food production in Nigeria.
”Farmers were provided with inputs and implements such as improved seeds, assorted fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides,” he said.
Attajidi however, said agriculture loans should be at very low interest to enhance production and establishment of agro-industries.
He called for support for rice millers to enhance the quality of their products in line with international standards.
“This could be done through the provision of more training and simple machinery for sorting the commodity, rice graders, and electric dryers
“Moreover, it will further boost local production for domestic consumption and export hence, boost the country’s economy,” Attajidi said.
An agricultural officer, Malam Kabiru Sani, said International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has been supporting rice and wheat farmers in some local government areas of Sokoto State.
Sani said the support is in collaboration with National Agricultural Seed Council of Nigeria and Green Agriculture West African Company of China.
He confirmed that IFAD has distributed about 800 hand pumps to farmers, constructed 1,078 tube wells, 17 boreholes and 27 livestock drinking points.