By Dele Sobowale
“He gave it for his opinion that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.” – Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, in the book ‘Ibrahim B Babangida (1985-1992): Letting a Thousand Flowers Bloom’, P 85
Women in the developing countries – including Nigeria, produce about 70 per cent of food consumed in that country. That should not surprise anyone who has been close to rural communities. The bulk of the food produced in Nigeria is grown on subsistence farms; on which the farmer and family produce a little more than they need themselves and sell the rest to raise cash for other needs.
Until November 1986, almost 35 years ago, when the Better Life Programme, BLP, was launched by Mrs Maryam Babangida, the contribution of women to the food security of Nigeria was very low.
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The nation’s food import bill rose to unsustainable levels. Several factors, too numerous to list, were holding back Nigeria’s rural women from contributing more. But, the most important were: land acquisition in their own right, lack of credit and lack of rural setting organisations promoting agriculture in general and food production in particular. Maryam Babangida and the BLP removed some of these impediments.
I was a large scale corporate Farm Manager and close observer both at Karu Local Government, Nasarawa and Sokoto/Zamfara states of the plight of rural women during the period under discussion. I can testify to the transformation of the lives of millions of rural women by the BLP. Permit me to just present the map of Nigeria in 1991 after four years of BLP – from almost a blank slate.
Since 1991, successive governments have not advanced the march to sustainable food security by one inch. Instead, they have allowed all the structures left by BLP to deteriorate. Only the increase in the population of rural women, as well as more acreage cultivated had spared us the pangs of devastating mass hunger.
But, everything changed since 2015 – with the new Buhari government. There is no need to repeat what is now well-known about the lives of rural women.
Today, as we look forward to the rest of 2021, one of the nearest things to certainty is FAMINE; and, we all know why. Herdsmen, kidnappers, bandits and government’s neglect of rural women have left us hanging on the ropes for survival – which is impossible without food security. Despite my inability to travel around the country as usual in 2020, I have kept in constant touch with my friends and informants in seven Northern states – two North East, two North West and three North Central. They serve as my Agricultural Intelligence Officers, AIO – making it possible for me to fairly well predict the productivity expected each year. They are seldom off the mark because farming is their only means of livelihood. None of them is looking forward to 2021 with much hope.
Their forecasts this year are uniform – very, very poor harvest on account of rural women who no longer want to take the risk to go farming. One of them, a rice farmer in Badeggi, Niger State, started 2020 with 250 rural women working their farms and selling excess rice to him. The number was reduced to 49 by October. He is starting with only 27 this year.
He is not alone. Several million husbands are keeping their wives at home; fathers lock up daughters who before now had gone eagerly to farm. It is bad enough that the criminals have seized control of rural areas, it is more discouraging that the Federal and state Governments provide no hope that banditry and destruction will end soon.
“For every folly of their [leaders], [Nigerians] feel the lash – Horace 65-8BC.
The main difference between now and 1986 is leadership. Nobody now gives a damn about rural women who have largely been driven off the land by male hoodlums. Unfortunately, rural women farmers are not the only losers in this deadly assault on them. Everybody will feel the lash – including the criminals. When herdsmen first invaded farms nationwide with AK-47s, FG officials refused to take action. Instead, they blamed the victims of the destruction of harvests.
Appetite grows with eating. So, herdsmen invaded more farms. Still it never occurred to our myopic leaders that, after a while, farmers might stop working for the brutes and their beasts. When at first hoodlums, murderers and kidnappers attacked rural women – nobody took steps to stop them. Together, they have driven rural women from farms. Everybody will suffer. Prices of food stuff are now escalating. Let nobody deceive you, they are not coming down soon. Gradually, basic food items are being priced out of the reach of the 102 million poor. They are barely affordable by the middle class.
They will remain so until the governments of Nigeria find a way of attracting rural women farmers back to work. Unfortunately, there is nobody in “the other room” to plead for rural women – which is another way of pleading for all those who might starve to death.
LAST LINE: Life does not often move in straight lines. Sometimes, it boomerangs. Nigerians read recently about the woman leading kidnappers in Kano State. From information reaching me, her late husband, from Bidda area in Niger State, was a big rice farmer whose farms were ruined by herdsmen. He took up the gun; became a cattle rustler, with his wife, until he was gunned down. But, that was after he had also gunned down several herdsmen and stolen their cattle!!! So, who wants to farm under the circumstances?