IThe year is 1995. There are vast blue skies with bright sunshine in Yammama village, Katsina State, Nigeria. An equally vast field of cotton rolls across the ground, almost too dazzling for the eyes. A dozen brightly painted trucks are lined up, as workers gather to load them with sacks on cotton sacks. A five-year-old boy walks towards the stage, clutching his father’s hands tightly, jubilant as always to come to the farm and almost brimming with curiosity.
In September 2015, two decades later and no longer a 5 year old, I returned to my father’s farm in Yammama, full of answers and eager to ask new questions, having become an entrepreneur with a social enterprise that supports areas rural farmers with mobile technologies for sustainable agriculture and improved food production. I had renewed my commitment to launch a comprehensive support platform that helped smallholders and connected them to the whole agricultural value chain, using digital technologies and I thought that was where my idea was born.
My father was not a small farmer. He had grown in commercial quantities and was also a licensed buying agent of the former Marketing Board. Yet, to solve the problems of smallholder farmers, there was much to learn from his time and the way he practiced agriculture. The main lesson being that farmers need to be visible in markets and markets connected to farmers, regardless of their distance. Once smallholders knew the specifications of a ready market and worked to meet them in terms of quality and quantity, almost everything else would fall into place.
The Marketing Board (which indexed commodity prices and bought surpluses from farmers at standardized prices) ensured that all farmers were visible in the market so to speak. Smallholders farmed with the certainty of an existing market, which they knew well. Robust structures and networks have enabled the easy flow of not only agricultural inputs but also information and have helped reduce the time and money it costs farmers, cooperatives and even agribusinesses to manage risk. farming and dealing with unknown partners. Extension and agricultural credit have reached farmers through effective and deliberate efforts and channels. Farmers were even rewarded for products that exceptionally met market requirements.
Currently, most Nigerian smallholder farmers are disconnected from agricultural markets. They are isolated and stuck in their localities without the money or the voice that the market can hear, and as such they only grow what they subsist on or trade locally. These same smallholders, albeit in smaller numbers and with greater challenges, were responsible for the economy that funded many governments before, including one of the Empire’s most lucrative Imperial campaigns. British.
However, today’s Nigerian agricultural market has abandoned its smallholders. Agricultural productivity declined and imports soared. There are arguments that the market has failed smallholders only because the crops they grow and the animals they raise are not relevant to the market in terms of volume and quality. Thus, despite a major scaling up of government money and inflows (through programs such as the Central Bank’s Anchor Borrowers Program and other programs), huge road infrastructure, processing and others, there is still a case of almost absolute isolation of smallholders. because they don’t know the exact requirements of the market or how to meet them. Whatever factors are to blame for the isolation of this small farmer, concerted efforts are needed to address the information disconnect so that the problems it manifests are resolved for good. This is why Yammama farms have remained the same or in most cases become unproductive over the years and it is a similar story in Northern Nigeria.
In 2015, and even today in 2022, you could see changes that have happened in Yammama in terms of development since 1995, but these changes are in most cases nominal. More houses have corrugated iron roofs, but the village still has a high percentage of rural poor. It has telecom masts and mobile connectivity, but lacks most financial and other value-added services. It has a larger primary school, but has a high number of out-of-school children. It has a primary healthcare center but that center was in tragic proportions until recent upgrades after a video of it went viral on social media. The farms, the river and the busy roadside (due to the highway passing through the village connecting the towns of Kano and Katsina to Zaria and Zamfara, axis Sokoto via the Funtua-Yashe road) have remained the same or have worsened since the 1990s. Quality of life has improved, no doubt thanks to global advances, but some old problems persist. This decadence and its effects on the socio-economic fabric of society are not unique to Yammama. This is happening all over northern Nigeria.
But even with the deteriorating state of the economy, education systems, health care and environment throughout northwestern Nigeria, Yammama has been relatively very peaceful (apart from small village feuds and the usual Nigerian traffic offenses) until this decade when there was an unsolved explosion. of an improvised explosive device in 2020, which claimed the lives of five children who herded cattle on a farm where the bomb was hidden. Security reports show it was a fortuitous event, as the culprits still at large had only had to store their nefarious device to transport it to another location.
However, this month armed bandits stormed the peaceful village and abducted three innocent, hard-working villagers in another attack on life and property that has characterized life in too many parts of northern Nigeria over the past decade. Many villagers have already decided to leave their homes or live in helplessness and fear for their lives. This attack came just days after a security meeting called by community leaders and people who both decided to seek solutions within as the looming scourge of insecurity brazenly advances towards more homes and even more villages, unchecked and seemingly unstoppable.