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Our Food Heroes: The Average Nigerian Smallholder Farmer

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By Kamaldeen Raji

When Northern farmers chorus “BaWasa” – a Hausa phrase which means no jokes to the call “AFEX”, you can feel the joy punctuating the atmosphere. If you look closely behind their misty-eyes, you will see stoic and strong Nigerian men and women who have relied on livelihoods that are fragile and insecure.

They have been blighted by unpredictable climate, falling crop prices, failed intervention promises, and economic tensions that have caused repercussions on the market, and their livelihoods.

These farmers are the backbone of agriculture in Nigeria, a booming sector that is the highest contributor to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP). About 88 percent of farmers in Nigeria are smallholder farmers producing 98 percent of agricultural produce (maize, paddy rice, soybeans, sorghum, cocoa, yam, etc) needed for consumption with activities being carried out on the nation’s 74 million hectares of arable land, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Unfortunately, 72 percent of these farmers live below the poverty line of 1.9 USD  a day.

Given these figures, there is a disproportion. Over 80% of Nigeria’s domestic food supply is planted on 0.5 hectares of land on an average and the farmers’ limited output is sold at skimpy prices. Contrary to popular opinion, the under productivity constraints experienced by farmers’ stem beyond lack of know-how or accurate documentation, to include financing. Agribusiness in Nigeria is underfunded because investors consider it 45% risker than other investment fields. Farmers struggle with crop failures and debt due to inadequate finances to purchase inputs like seeds, fertilizers, irrigation water, pesticides, etc that produce permanent improvements to farm productivity.

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“Mostly life has been stagnant for farmers. There is no food even in the farmer’s house. We have the land but no fertilizer.  We live in remote parts and farming is the only business we do. Farming has not been successful and the government has not been helping us with fertilizers.  Someone will farm and after toiling the produce won’t be enough to feed the family” a smallholder farmer, Ubale Ayuba lamented.

By helping farmers to access quality inputs and extensive support in collateral management and warehouse receipts, AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited (AFEX) is strengthening smallholder farmers for long-term scalability in their fields. AFEX plays at the intersection of access to finance and access to markets through a robust commodities exchange model that includes the provision of a bundle of services that improve farmer productivity and yield while strengthening the market systems for trade and investment in the agricultural sector of Nigeria. The Exchange’s technique off-set the effects of climate, poor financing, infrastructure, and technological know-how on agriculture while also helping to grow markets and connect trades.

AFEX’s innovative solutions are working as evidenced by the improvements in the livelihoods of partner farmers. Over 70,000 farmers who have benefitted from AFEX’s Input Financing Program, an agricultural financing initiative where the company enables smallholder farmers to get access to quality inputs through financing from retail and institutional sources. The program structure ensures that by working with the farmers on their operations from planting till harvest, farmers are enabled to improve their productivity and yields, and afterwards get access to a market with fairer and more competitive pricing.

Shehu Matthew, a smallholder farmer that is part of the AFEX farmer network in Kaduna State said, “At first, I had doubts about AFEX’s approach. We have had government bodies and different initiatives promise to help us be more productive but no response. No farmer wants to be behind the planting schedule. It is devastating. I didn’t know how much investment my farm was worth until AFEX came along. They teach and provide us with everything from seedling to harvesting that boosts productivity. Today, my entire farm is covered in thick green corn along with other crops.”

AFEX’s intervention is part of the broader sustainable and profitable agricultural ecosystem approach for farmers. These farmers have witnessed a significant increase in soil fertility leading to high crop yields and market demand. It is an effective strategy to achieve a robust food security program in Nigeria and improve the livelihoods of farmers.  The entire value chain has a role to play in this system and it requires a shift in thinking about value-oriented programs all around.

So the next time you wonder who the average Nigerian smallholder farmer is, he or she is a national hero whose determination and perseverance can alleviate food hunger and poverty in the entire nation. But to attain this height, the farmers require technical support to grow high-demand crops for a sustainable food system in the nation.

Kamaldeen Raji is the Commercial Officer at AFEX, where he manages partners, traders and merchants activities up unto delivery and also coordinates outreach and farmer training events.

About AFEX Nigeria
AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited (AFEX) enables the transition from production to transaction for agricultural commodities. Since its founding in 2014, AFEX has developed and deployed a viable commodities exchange model for the West African market; building a strong supply chain infrastructure to support the securitization of agricultural products.  AFEX operates 45 warehouses in Nigeria’s key grain-producing areas and accounts for over 100,000 MT of total national storage capacity. Since 2014, the Exchange has reached over 106,000 farmers and traded over 135,000 MT of commodities with a total turnover of USD41.5milliion (NGN14.9billion).

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