Fatima Bello, 64, a nurse and a mother of four, has farms in Kebbi and Sokoto states of Nigeria. An alumnus of School of Nursing and Midwifery, Sokoto and also holder of a diploma certificate in teaching, she says she wants to spend more time on her farms.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mrs Bello shares her experience as a farmer and here is the full interview. Mrs Bello indicated that she wants the Nigerian government to support women farmers with extension services for trainings and information on how to improve farming and output.
PT: What crops do you cultivate?
Mrs Bello: I cultivate rice, millet and beans.
PT: How long have you been cultivating the crops?
Mrs Bello: About three years now.
PT: What else do you do aside farming?
Mrs Bello: I am a nurse tutor in the School of Health Technology, Gamji. I was in the School of Midwifery, Usmanu Danfodiyo Teaching Hospital, till I retired and joined a private institution. I later joined the School of Health Technology here in Sokoto.
PT: Being a nurse by profession, what really inspired you to begin farming?
Mrs Bello: Firstly, I had the opportunity of owing a land. Secondly, I was influenced by my in-law who is a long-term farmer. He is a graduate in Agric and a professional with over 40 years experience in farming. Whenever I am home, he calls to advise me to have a piece of land to cultivate rice. Then when I had the opportunity of getting a land, which I inherited from my late father, I started using the two for farming. Sadly, some women in my locality inherited farm lands too either from their husbands or their parents but they do not have the opportunity and means of farming. With women farmers associations or Cooperatives, they usually get certain assistance. When the government wants to give out inputs or palliative of any kind, they don’t give to individuals; they give to groups or associations. That inspired me to start a group to help these people so that they can have something and also start farming.
PT: So, you use your personal land for cultivation?
Mrs Bello: My land and also the land from my brother-in-law. I use my land for the beans and millet but for rice, I use my brother-in-law’s land. Although my son owns another land suitable for rice too, it is too far from my vicinity, coupled with the insecurity, herdsmen and other issues disturbing the areas.
PT: What are the sizes of the land?
Mrs Bello: The rice farm is approximately two hectares. I have two millet farms; one is one hectare while the other is three hectares.
PT: Where do you get your seeds from?
Mrs Bello: For the millet and beans, I buy them from the regular markets. But for the rice, my brother-in-law gives me some.
PT: Why did you choose to cultivate just only these three crops?
Mrs Bello: For example, groundnut grows well here but the crops I cultivate are the most common crops cultivated in the area. Sometimes, if people do not want to cultivate beans, they do alternate with groundnut. But for me, I do millet and beans on one farm and then rice on the other.
PT: Have you heard of improved seeds?
Mrs Bello: Yes I have. The millet I use is the improved one bought from the ministry of agric. My brother bought it for me from the ministry as you cannot get the improved seeds from the local markets.
PT: You cultivate about six hectares of land. Do you use machines on these farms?
Mrs Bello: Yes I use machines. I use power tillers on the rice farms, but for the millet farm I use local machines.
PT: How did you get the machines?
Mrs Bello: For the millet, when I hire labourers, they use their machines on the farm. But for the power tillers, my brother-in-law has one so I just get his operator, pay him and he uses the machine for me on my farm.
PT: Do you use your children as labourers on the farm?
Mrs Bello: I use my children on the farm but not as labourers but as supervisors.
PT: What is your average output?
Mrs Bello: My average output for rice is about 68 bags while the millet is in two forms. From the small farm I get about four sacks after deshafting the millet. From the bigger farm I get between 20 to 30 sacks.
PT: What was your startup capital?
Mrs Bello: My startup capital for rice was roughly about N500,000. For the millet, it was about N60,000 on the smaller farm while on the bigger farm it was roughly about N400,000. The startup capital for the rice is that high because it was during the dry season. You’ll have to water it, which will involve you buying pumping machine and fuel. These increase the cost of investment, which would have been lower if it was done during the raining season.
PT: How do you deal with issues concerning fertiliser?
Mrs Bello: Fertilisers are very expensive. A bag goes for about N15,000 and is presently not readily available. I gave my brother money to get for me and it took a while before he could get it as it was not given by the government.
PT: What do you do when you do not have the fertiliser?
Mrs Bello: We use the local manure which also is very expensive. This is because they know it is not always available.
PT: Do you have good roads to your farm?
Mrs Bello: The millet farm has no problem as the road is motorable during both the dry and wet season, and not too farm from the major road. But for the rice farm, during the dry season it can be accessed with vehicles. But because of the nature of the land, during the raining season you cannot access the farm with vehicles, you use motorcycles, which makes it stressful by then.
PT: Is there market for your goods?
Mrs Bello: Yes, there is market for my produce. I don’t have any problem with the market to sell my produce. Whenever I harvest and I want to sell, there are people ready to buy it off from you. Besides, we have middle men who come to buy all from us and take it to resell.
PT: How do you preserve your goods?
Mrs Bello: I have only preserved the millet. But for the rice, I always sell immediately after harvesting.
PT: Do you sell all your goods or consume some?
Mrs Bello: I do sell my goods and I also consume from it. I take small from the millet and the rice while I sell off the rest.
PT: In which markets do you sell your goods.
Mrs Bello: The general open market. Usually, there are market days. You just take it to the market and you sell. There are people in the market who will help you to sell while you give them a token for the services.
PT: Does your husband support you?
Mrs Bello: He doesn’t support me financially but he gives me room to run and manage my farm.
PT: Have you had and support from the government?
Mrs Bello: Recently, I got cowpeas from the ministry of agric. Apart from that, I have personally not gotten anything from the government until the cowpeas. I don’t know if other associations or cooperatives have been benefitting from the government.
PT: Have you ever had issues with herdsman on your farm?
Mrs Bello: Yes, I have had issues with herdsmen. One of the rice farms that belongs to my son is close to where they rear cattle so sometimes, before you know it they have accessed your farm and destroyed your crops. For this reason I didn’t farm there because it will be useless to farm there. The land is not demarcated and therefore easily accessible. It’ll be waste of time and money if after farming the cattle enters and feeds on the crops.
PT: Have you benefited from any extension services?
Mrs Bello: No I have not benefitted from any extension services.
PT: Which of the cooperatives do you associate with?
Mrs Bello: I associate with the Small-scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON).
PT: Have you experienced discrimination from male farmers?
Mrs Bello: Yes. The male farmers feel and behaves like farming is for men only and women shouldn’t be a part of it. And whatever the government has to give to farmers must be given to just the male farmers and not to both of us, that’s the male and female farmers. Sometimes with advocacy, hardly do we get responses from the men. Even when we go to the ministry, they are the ones handling the ministry and its affairs.
PT: What will you say is your biggest regret in farming so far?
Mrs Bello: I have not regretted anything since I ventured into farming. I make good returns. I got 68 bags while in the same area with the same nature of soil and size of land other farmers didn’t get up to half of what I got. So I have no regret. The only thing is that this year during the raining season, the flood affected us well. Almost everything that was planted was gone to the flood.
This fluctuates with time. Now you might not get anything and next you’ll get something. But on the average, it is not an issue. During the raining season, because of the flood there is a problem. That is why I started doing only dry season farming, which will incur more cost in buying fuel and pumping water, which you don’t do in the raining season. But regret, I have not regretted going into farming. I even want to expand if possible.
PT: What are your plans for expansion?
Mrs Bello: Firstly, I will acquire more land and devote more time to farming. With the year 2020 ended, I’ll reduce my time in teaching and increase my time in farming because there is the need for effective supervision.
PT: What will you describe as your biggest challenge in farming?
Mrs Bello: My biggest challenge so far is getting fertiliser when needed and at the quantity required to make the crop grow better. Another challenge is acquiring a farm of my own to plant rice. The land I use for rice is not my own, which is a challenge to me. Again is getting extension services from the government where we get trainings and information to help improve our farming experiences and output. This training should include the application of chemicals, herbicides and insecticide, the use of machines like pumping machine, power tillers etc.
PT: Will you advise young girls to venture into farming?
Mrs Bello: Yes I advise them to venture into farming. There are many of them who have graduated from the higher institutions and are idle. Instead of just staying at home and hoping on something, they can have farms of their own or even hire a farmland and farm. Recently I had to enquire as we were given cowpeas from the ministry of agric and I needed to hire a land to plant it.
PT: What advise will you give someone who wants to venture into farming as a business?
Mrs Bello: Firstly is getting a farm of your own or getting means to hire farms you can use. You’ll need land, funds, equipment and inputs. You’ll have to get someone to advise you like extension workers so you’ll have a better knowledge which gets you better outputs. Also join cooperatives, because if there is assistance from the government it goes to cooperatives rather than individuals.
That will help you get something from the government. Someone can acquire loans, depending on how good and dedicated they are and if you can pay back; because if you take a loan and cannot pay back, you create a problem for yourself.