INVESTIGATION: Kogi farmers excluded from billions of naira ‘spent’ on COVID-19 recovery

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Kogi State government says in a financial report that it spent over two billion naira on agric-related projects to help the sector recover from the COVID-19 pandemic but farmers in the state deny receiving any support.

Adams Aduojo was dissatisfied with the conduct of the labourers he contracted to plough his farmland for planting of beans.

The commercial farmer who lives in Enjema, a rural community in the eastern part of Kogi State, had hired their service a few months before this reporter visited but the farmland was yet untouched.

“They just collected my money and did nothing for more than a month. They must go there and do the work,” an angry Mr Aduojo said that evening.

He was reporting the perceived laziness of the labourers to his aged mother when our reporter arrived in the community.

This is one of the challenges farmers usually encounter with labourers with poor work ethic.

But for Mr Aduojo, who was gradually recovering from the biting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged the world for more than a year, this poses a grave setback with the concern that he may miss the second window of the planting season, if the labourers delay any further.

Adams recounts ordeal

Like any other farmer in Kogi State, he was badly affected by the pandemic, recording a huge loss, he said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

“Last year, during the harvesting of cashew (nuts), between the marketers and the whites, what transpired made farmers to be at a negative point because they cannot export. A bag supposed to be sold for N70,000 was sold for N12,000,” he told our reporter.

That amounts to over 80 per cent drop in revenue for cashew farmers who depend largely on export markets for sales.

The drastic drop was linked to the COVID-19 restrictions that limited international travels last year. Experts said the purchase of cashews even stopped in some localities.

Mr Aduojo explained that while the price of cashew nuts fell, the cost of maintaining a cashew plantation remained high.

“You can use N30,000 in clearing the land. During September and October, you have to do the fire tracing so that fire will not get into it.”

He was speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in company of his neighbour, Haruna Ajeh, who harvested eight truckloads of cassava but sold them for N100,000 instead of the N140,000 — the market price before the pandemic broke out. Mr Ajeh, as a result of the price drop, had a cumulative loss of 320,000 naira.

Haruna takes a bite of the fruit as Adams speaks

Mr Aduojo recalled how the fear of the pandemic made some of his colleagues quit farming after the loss of capital.

“Some had their yams harvested. People ate their yam for fear of the unknown. It was a bottleneck on the side of farmers,” he lamented.

In March 2020, nearly a month after the country recorded its index COVID-19 case, the Nigerian government declared a total lockdown in high-risk states and consequently, a ban on inter-state travels, which lasted for weeks.

Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, a COVID-19 skeptic, refused a total lockdown but ordered a temporary closure of all land and water entry points into the state to curb the spread of virus in the state.

Welcome to Kogi State Government House

The restrictions on movement negatively impacted the supply of seedlings and other agricultural inputs for planting and marketing of farm produce.

“Farming is movement. It is not highly restricted in Kogi State (like other states) but later on, the restriction came. The restricted movement affected us,” said Babaniyi Asorose, a Lokoja-based farmer.

Babaniyi expresses his frustration

The sexagenarian who mainly plants cashew, maize and guinea corn, explained that Kogi farmers are dependent on neighbouring cities like Abuja, Ilorin and Benin for seedlings and farm input.

Palm kernel in Babaniyi's compound

He further stated that he lost an estimated five million naira to the pandemic, cumulatively.

Dada Emmanuel, a retired civil servant and cassava farmer in Yagba West Local Government Area, also corroborated Mr Asorose’s claim.

The year 2020 has been the worst since he retired five years ago from the state’s ministry of finance, he told PREMIUM TIMES. A large chunk of his monthly pension is what he invested in the three-acre cassava farm sited in Egbe.

“(When the pandemic broke out), activities were reduced nearly to zero level because movement was restricted and labourers could not go to farm. That affected the yield, resulting in nearly N1.5 million estimated loss,” he told our reporter.

Ramatu Usman, 28, on the other hand, said she used to make an annual turnover of between N500,000 and one million naira from growing beans and vegetables and bambara groundnut but her revenue crashed last year.

“I could not raise up to N300,000.”

She was only able to pay her children’s school fees from the proceeds of her farm produce. No savings, she said.

The effect of the pandemic on farming was worsened by the reduction in rainfall last year, which experts attributed to climate change.

Messrs Aduojo, Asorose and other farmers said the rain stopped in August as against the expected November, a shift from the routine weather pattern.

“The plot I marked for one hectare of palm tree, I have paid for them. 125 stamps. It was the rain that prevented me from transferring them from the nursery to the land,” said Mr Aduojo about his botched attempts to plant palm trees.

Yam plantation in Ankpa

Weather patterns in recent times have become less favourable and increase the volatility of crop yields, according to a research by McKinsey Global Institute.

Also, the State of the Climate in Africa 2019 Report noted that the changes are threatening food and water security, and socio-economic development in Africa.

For instance, the report noted that under the worst climate change scenario, there will be a 13 per cent reduction in crop yield in West and Central Africa, 11 per cent in North Africa and eight per cent in East and Southern Africa.

This climatic factor, coupled with the insecurity that has kept farmers away from their farms in the northern parts of Nigeria, has been blamed for the hike in food prices.



Source: Premium Times

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