Scaling the Impact of Smallholder Farmers

Ugo Aliogo in this report writes on the need to increase support and interventions for smallholder farmers in Nigeria

Smallholders comprise 88 per cent of all Nigerian farmers, but due to their small land space, they do not produce as many crops as their competitors. Consequently, nearly 72 per cent of Nigerian smallholder farmers live on less than $1.90 per day. Most live well below the poverty line. The agriculture has remained underdeveloped due to the huge concentration on oil and industry. The neglect of the agriculture industry led to low use of mechanical equipment, poor agricultural systems, poor road networks to transport produce and lack of access to quality fertilizer and seed.

A new research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), stated that the world’s smallholder farmers produce around a third of the world’s food.

Five of every six farms in the world consist of less than two hectares, operate only around 12 percent of all agricultural land, and produce roughly 35 percent of the world’s food, according to a study published in World Development.

Smallholders’ contributions to food supply varies enormously between countries, with the share as high as 80 percent in China and in the low single-digits for Brazil and Nigeria. The analysis highlights the importance of improved and harmonized data to obtain a more granular and accurate picture of agricultural activities for policy makers.

In 2014, a flagship report from FAO calculated that nine out of 10 of the world’s 570 million farms were family farms and produced around 80 percent of the world’s food. The new research tagged: “Which farms feed the world and have farmland become more concentrated?” aims to clarify the prevalence of farm sizes.

The updated estimates are that there are more than 608 million family farms around the world, occupying between 70 and 80 per cent of the world’s farmland and producing around 80 percent of the world’s food in value terms. The new research teases out estimates of farm size: around 70 per cent of all farms, operating on just seven per cent of all agricultural land, are less than one hectare, while another 14 per cent of farms, controlling four per cent of the land, are between one and two hectares, and another 10 per cent of all farms, with six per cent of the land, are between two and five hectares.

The research argued that the largest one percent of farms in the world greater than 50 hectares – operate more than 70 percent of the world’s farmland, with nearly 40 percent of agricultural land found on farms larger than 1000 hectares.


In Nigeria, agriculture accounts for a quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is the second-highest contributor in the country. Although government has reaffirmed its commitment to allocate 10 per cent of its annual budget to agriculture as a signatory to the Maputo Declaration, it has not allocated more than 2.2 per cent over the past  seven years. Women smallholder farmers especially are overlooked by officials overseeing agricultural policy and decision-making, which is surprising when they make up 70 per cent of the workforce and produce 60 per cent of the food Nigerians consume, it is a sad narrative.

In just two and a half years the Smallholder Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON), with the support of IBP, secured three critical budgetary changes to bolster their livelihoods and contributions to the country’s agricultural sector. As a result of data-driven advocacy, the national government increased its spending on agriculture by 18.5% and made new federal budget allocations towards the sector in the five focus states targeted by the programme. Essentially, 111,000 smallholder women farmers gained access to new or improved seeds and fertilizer to grow crops, and lighter and more modern equipment to increase production.

Smallholder farmers are the poorest part of Nigeria’s agricultural sector due to long standing underinvestment. Women farmers are especially hard hit. Women are not only five times less likely to own land than men, but they also do not have the financial resources to invest in farming supplies and services. This means that they cannot increase their yields or earn as much as their male counterparts.

FG’s Role

As part of its desire to support smallholders’ farmers in 2021, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development distributed free agricultural inputs and quality seeds to smallholder farmers in Gombe State.

The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha Shehuri, said the desire of government is to promote food and nutrition security, create more jobs for the youth, as well as boost dry-season farming.

The minister revealed the initiative was part of the mitigation measures against the effect of COVID-19 pandemic and the flood disaster that had wreaked havoc on farmlands.

Shehuri said the ministry would support breeder and foundation seed production, as well as link up with private seed companies to ensure that certified seeds were made available to farmers nationwide.

He said improved rural infrastructure and other value chain support would invariably contribute to the attainment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire of ensuring easy access to quality food and nutrition for Nigerians.

According to the minister, “The ministry has supported Gombe State with subsidised input with over 350 3HP and 30 7HP irrigation pumps, multipurpose threshers, over 70 motorised and dual powered sprayers, amongst others.

“Under our World Bank assisted nutrition programme, we have provided multiple training and homestead farming input packages, including tomato, pepper, pawpaw, among others, in five local government areas of the state, as well as irrigation kits designed to improve household nutrition.

“The small-holder farmers in the state will today receive the following free inputs; 10,000 gum arabic seedlings, 15MT of rice seed, 2.5 mt groundnut foundation seeds, 1,000 kg of castor seeds, 1,500 kg of cashew nuts.

“Also, to be distributed were, Ratkin and Liptol – organic insecticides to combat armyworm infestation and equipment like water pumps, maize threshers, among others.”

In another development, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, called for streamlining of agricultural loans through the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) in order to improve small holder farmers’ access to grants, boost food production and generate revenue for the country.

Abubakar also gave assurance of the federal government’s commitment to diversifying the economy through agriculture and stated emphatically that the plan would boost nutrition and food security, increase the local farmer’s income and create more jobs for Nigerian farmers.

According to him, the BOA would continue its role as a development financial institution in the agriculture sector to provide agriculture financing for smallholder farmers as “it will stimulate improvement in the lives and growth across the farming communities.”

He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari is very passionate about the need to grow what we eat and eat what we grow so as to de-emphasise unnecessary importation of food which constitutes a drain on our foreign exchange.”

Abubakar, however, disclosed ongoing plans by the ministry in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria to streamline Agricultural loans to smallholder farmers for proper utilisation and more effective production and efficient services scheme for Nigerian Farmers in the various value Chains.

He reiterated that the ministry under his watch would ensure that the BOA obtained a licence to operate maximally and deliver services towards achieving its core objectives and mandate.

Expert Views

In an interview with THISDAY, the Food and Agriculture Programme Coordinator, ActionAid Nigeria (AAN), Azubike Nwokoye, said insecurity and banditry in Nigeria have been a major setback to the growth of smallholder farmers in Nigeria.

He also noted that smallholder farmers especially women are not able to access their farms due to fear of being raped, kidnapped, or killed.

He hinted that smallholder farmers are also suffering from cattle destruction of farms in various parts of the country.

Nwokoye further explained that there are recorded situations from farmers where herders uproot the cassava or yams on their farmland and feed them to their cattle. They have also fed their cattle with maize and soya beans on large hectares of land belonging to smallholder farmers.

“These challenges have greatly affected the growth and livelihood of smallholder farmers and food security in Nigeria which is further compounded with high level of post-harvest losses which is estimated at N3.5 trillion annually,” he said.

He advised the three tiers of government to commit 10 percent of their annual budget to the agriculture sector required to support at least 6% growth rate for the sector as postulated in the CAADP framework.

He stated that investments should focus on strategic areas of extension services, access to credit, women in agriculture, youth in agriculture, appropriate labour-saving technologies, inputs, post-harvest losses reduction supports (processing facilities, storage facilities, trainings, and market access), Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture (CRSA) agroecology, research and development, monitoring and evaluation, as well as coordination.

According to him, “FMARD and State Ministries of Agriculture should create a yearly budget line for Support for smallholder women. FMARD and State Ministries of Agriculture should create a yearly Strengthening Access to Credit budget line: This funding should focus on: Criteria, requirements, and documentations for credit is too cumbersome so majority of smallholder farmers are not having access to credit in Nigeria: Develop an enabling environment and a policy framework that will enable smallholder farmers especially women, youths and farmers living with disability easy access to credit on single digit interest rate.

“Handholding farmers (women, youths and farmers living with disability cooperatives) to access existing CBN agricultural credit facilities through a team or consultancy firm which prepares their business proposals, interfaces, and negotiates with BOA, Bank of Industry, NIRSAL, commercial and microfinance banks. The team or consultancy firm will ensure that the cooperatives accesses such facilities and other services like extension, insurance, etc. and even market access and they are able to pay back at the end of each circle. Federal and State governments should ensure timely and total releases of the agriculture budgets towards food security, unemployment reduction and poverty eradication.”

For agriculture budgeting and other policymaking processes, a strategy for involving and mainstreaming the concerns of smallholder farmers should be developed. For example, leaders of women farmer organizations and other smallholder farmers, vulnerable groups such as farmers living with disabilities, and CSOs should be invited to every stage of the budget. Federal and State governments should do more to address the increasing insecurity in the country to address the looming food insecurity and poverty in Nigeria.

According to Nwokoye, “ActionAid has continued to build the capacity of smallholder farmers, especially women and providing policy influencing spaces for them to engage policymakers on issues affecting them. This is being done through the support we provide to the Small-Scale Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), which is the largest movement of smallholder women farmers covering the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). We were also able to link them up to MDAs where they had access to various agricultural trainings, inputs, and financial support to boost their agricultural productivity. ActionAid also provided Agroecological trainings and information to community farmers’ cooperatives to boost their sustainable agricultural production in the face of climate change challenges.

“ActionAid Nigeria trained smallholder women farmers, Activista youth movement, Partners and other CSOs on the use of the Non-State Actors (NSAs) Value Addition Biennial Review Toolkit (VABKIT) and supported them to generate smallholder women farmers’ state level data (related to the BR indicators) across the 36 states and the FCT to feed into the Report for Nigeria for the 3rd Biennial Review (BR) exercise on the implementation of Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). The data/information reflected the lived realities of smallholder women farmers across Nigeria to add value in the country performance reporting template.

“The current data collected through the VABKIT shows that nationwide, smallholder women farmers currently have only 18 per cent access to processing facilities, 16.60 per cent access to storage facilities, 13.50 per cent access to off-takers/access to markets, 9.60 per cent access to transportation for agricultural produce, and 42.30 per cent access to trainings. On Extension Services, smallholder women farmers have access to only 5.26 per cent farm demonstrations and 19.47 per cent  farmers field schools. On agricultural credit, they have access to less than 23 per cent of existing credit facilities, and only 4.77 per cent access to agricultural insurance. On access to and control over land, about 59 per cent of them have access to land, 29.77 per cent have control, while only 11.23 per cent are engaged in land governance discussions. While government is making effort to improve the space for more Public Private Partnerships arrangements in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, smallholder women farmers’ access to such schemes across the country remains below 27 per cent.”

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