So, why aren’t policy levers helping small farmers in Nigeria?

Agriculture, Food & livelihoods, Gender, Governance

In 2012 Oxfam and IIED joined forces to create Tipping the Balance a global report exploring the connection between the policy and practice of investment and market governance in small scale agriculture in four countries: Nigeria, Tanzania, Guatemala and the Philippines. 

Today we launch the Nigeria country case study, and in the first of a series of posts from the focus countries, Jika Amah and Tomi Ademokun illustrate how small-scale farmers in Nigeria face discrimination despite policies that have tried to push agricultural
investment in their favour.

Over 80% of Nigeria’s food is produced by small-scale farmers, of whom 60-79% are women. These farmers work on small plots of land (often less than a hectare) and rely on rainfall for irrigation. Despite several policies being designed to improve the chances of small farmers, there is a fundamental gap between policy intentions and their implementation. This gap affects many areas of agricultural life, including access to credit, markets and land security. 

Access to credit

What do we mean by the gap between the intention and implementation? A good example is the Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), which was introduced in 2012 in order to improve small farmers’ access to credit. The concept sounded good on paper, but in practice smallholders could not meet the stringent loan conditions, whose prevailing interest
rate of 20% made them no more accessible than commercial loans. 

Tipping the Balance - Nigeria case study

The NIRSAL shows a lack of consultation with small holder farmer groups, but is very typical of agricultural credit in Nigeria, which has always been ‘farmer unfriendly’. Generally, deductions start almost as soon as a farmer has taken the loan, leaving no room for them to plough their land, or nurse, harvest and sell their crops, in order to repay it. In one of its recent agricultural support initiatives, the Central Bank of Nigeria set a minimum loan amount at an unrealistic N1 million (3,965 GBP) and asked for a 20% deposit. Considering that hardly any smallholders in
Nigeria could afford such a deposit (N200,000 or 793 GBP) let alone the interest on such a large loan, it begs the question: who are these initiatives designed for? 

Women farmers face even greater hurdles, as they are required to get a counter signature from their husbands to apply for a loan. 

Governance and market access

The credit hurdles seem like a case of misguided good intentions, but elsewhere the discriminatory nature of agricultural policy reveals a more sinister governance issue. Incentives intended for farmers to access fertiliser, machinery and other equipment have often been diverted away, preventing the most marginalised farmers from benefiting from them.

Smallholder farmer in Nigeria

Since the abolition of government funded agricultural marketing boards, smallholders are left to the whims of middle men who set prices at impoverishing rates especially during harvests when farmers are in dire need of cash. These middle men end up having the maximum profit margin with little or nothing left for the producers.

In addition, in the absence of effective quality control or extension services, farmers are left to sell sub-standard products at a discount rather than being supported to attain higher standards where they would be able to sell at premium.

Land security

Smallholder farmers, especially women, bear the brunt of land grabbing that takes place in Nigeria. Smallholder farmers in most cases do not have a strong enough voice to challenge the situation and end up being displaced from their lands. In contrast, lands belonging to large scale farmers cannot be taken because they have the voice and the means to challenge the government or the companies.

For agricultural policies to be more beneficial to small holders, support to farmers should go beyond enhancing market access to improving the quality of their produce. With nearly two-thirds of the agricultural workforce being women, policy gaps excluding women smallholders from agricultural policy decisions should be bridged. And improving women’s access to productive inputs must be made a priority.

By and large, to make certain that both men and women benefit equally from corporate investment in agriculture, there must be a complete paradigm shift in the policy perception – and indeed societal view – about agriculture being a traditionally male occupation. 

Links between small-scale farmers and large agricultural businesses can provide outlets for farmers to market their products and widespread benefits for all – as long as they are backed by appropriate legislation

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In 2012 Oxfam and IIED joined forces to create Tipping the Balance a global report exploring the connection between the policy and practice of investment and market governance in small scale agriculture in Nigeria, Tanzania, Guatemala and the Philippines. 

Today we launch the Nigeria country case study, the Guatemala case study will be released next week. 

Author: Jika Amah
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.