The dogged women of Ago Amodu

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A reporter’s recent excursion to Ago Amodu village, where women cultivate hectares of farmlands with bare hands , yields everything but glad tidings. But they told GBENGA OGUNDARE they are willing to slave more if only government will help women to lead the agric revolution Nigeria needs to revamp her plunging economy.

SEVERAL hectares of virgin lush spread far into the horizon as a phalanx of women farmers lead the reporter out of Ago Amodu village, Saki East of Oyo State. More than three kilometers of rugged terrains covered already, drenched by perspiration and falling waters as you brush past leafy pathways, you have no idea where you are heading to if you are a first timer like the reporter.

Ahead of you as you venture a little deeper into the forest, four high rise bamboo shacks tower above an expansive vegetable beds as an orchestra of gleeful birds welcome you into Yinka Adesola’s farm, south of Ago Amodu.

Measuring approximately 20 by 8 metres in size, each surrounded by untreated mosquito nettings and thin nylon sheets as roofings, the ingenuous construction is the young woman’s inventive response to help stave off the Tomato Ebola, that soil-borne pest that feeds on tomato, garden egg and potato plants in Nigeria recently–sparking off a season of trauma and agitation for farmers and consumers alike.

“It’s called ‘local greenhouse’ or if you like, ‘nethouse’. I came up with the idea following the massive loss farmers suffered recently as a result of the Ebola invasion of vegetable farms,’ the graduate of Geophysics and Seismology explains to the reporter.

“The Tomato Ebola has always been with us as vegetable farmers, and certainly will come back again. Unfortunately, government is not doing anything to help farmers prevent it’s return, so I had to come up with this local technology with the hope that it will help vegetable farmers secure themselves from another loss in the next farming season.”

Yinka’s invention is multipurpose, the reporter discovers. The nettings surrounding the ‘greenhouse’ are the bulwark against invasion from vegetable destroyers such as the Tuta absoluta. Whereas the nylon sheets covering the arc-shaped roofs are meant to shield the vegetables from the blazing sunshine that asphyxiates the delicate crops before they are fit for harvest.

“The sun is harmful for the vegetables, and so is the rainwater too. That’s why I designed the roof in the form of an arc so that when it rains, the acid rain doesn’t get to the crops and infect them with Septoria blithe,’ she explains to the reporter.

But protecting a vast field of vegetables with the ‘greenhouse’ does not come cheap.

Yinka says an imported ‘greenhouse’ measuring the same size as her own local adaptation costs about N1.6 million in the market. Whereas she spends no less than N150,000 to erect her local invention , aside from the labour which she provides by herself alongside a few farm labourers. “I have to go source for the bamboos that will serve as skeletons for the structure in the bush, she narrates, ‘or buy them sometimes and ship them to the farm.

“So for an acre of land, consisting of six plots in all, a vegetable farmer will require no less than eight units of the ‘greenhouse’ to prevent the kind of heart attack that some of the women farmers especially suffered in the aftermath of the recent Tomato Ebola.
That’s some N1.2 million–huge enough to make the poor women farmers of Ago Amodu come down with migraine attacks, according to the geologist-turned farmer.

“That has been the dilemma of the women farmers in Ago Amodu since I came here to start my farm project three years ago,” she laments. ‘They are very poor and no one is willing to empower them through loans, not even government.”

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Well, except for the devil’s alternative the women have got in ‘Komu le lantern’, Bisoye Ayinde reveals to the reporter. “but it always give us hypertension because it’s difficult to pay back especially if your harvest is bad,’ she gripes.

You may as well spare yourself the difficult guess! Loosely explained, ‘K’omu le lantern’ means ‘your breast on a red hot lantern’. And the coinage, the reporter learnt, spawns from the manner women bend over the cashier’s desk, breast spilling, as they huddle into a small room to apply for small loans. But overtime, the women have come to equate the pains in paying back the microcredit with resting their bare breasts on a kindled lantern.

The Toil of Womanhood
You would think that’s all about the hardship the women farmers of Ago Amodu are going through until you see Rachael Adetunji shoot up from her wooden seat behind a blazing hearth from where a group of women are processing ground cassava into garri.
“Ha, oga, have you come to help us?’ The middle-aged woman queried upon sighting the reporter’s camera. “This fire is too much o, do you know someone who can give us dryer?’ Can you help us with a fryer?’ She whines some more, tears streaming down her eyes courtesy of the billowing smoke from the fireplace.

Rachael has got every reason to pester any stranger for bailout indeed. Spending endless hours behind a large hearth blazing with fire every now and then to process gari for sale, in addition to a life of hard labour on three acres of cassava farm without tractors to clear the land or labourers to make the ridges has worn her out so bad.

“We are even lucky now that we have a machine that sieves the ground cassava for us. Before now, it was such a painful exercise sieving with a manual filter.’

‘You finish in the night and then you can’t use your body again, how much less having a sound sleep’ Rachael narrates.

And as if that is not enough punishment, Rachael, like other women farmers in this slumbering community, treks for several hours each day as they journey to their farms and back home. On a good day for instance, the women hit the road at dawn, trekking at least seven kilometers carrying the tools needed for the day’s work in a sack on their shoulders.

“We get lucky once in a while if we find someone with a vehicle going our way,’ Rhoda Asaye, another farmer, narrates, ‘otherwise we trek from home to the farm and back everyday. That’s why we don’t come back home until 8 in the night at least.”
A Painful Paradox

It’s no use raising the dust about gender equity and women empowerment in this economically depressed village; you would only be choking the already jaded women the more. Yinka Adesola, for one, says she doubts if such development agenda exist in the blueprint of the government of Oyo State.

“That is why the local government doesn’t assist the women farmers. No matter how much we try to appeal to them, they will always ask us for money before they agree to help us prepare our farmlands.”

But that’s how it is everywhere. Development researchers Yemisi Grace Mtsor and P.D Idisi in a study published in the Merit Research Journals volume 2 found out rural women contribute between 60 percent and 65 percent of agriculture labour force. They produce 80 percent of the food crops, too. In all this, just 14 percent have access to loan facilities.

Finding themselves in this kind of strait, the women farmers have only one choice, and that is to go it alone, barehanded.

Ago Amodu is the headquatres of Saki East Local Government of Oyo State, so it’s alright if you agree with Yinka these poor women shouldn’t have problems getting help from the council to ease the torture they endure from cultivating farmlands with their bare hands everyday. But you are wrong!

The local council charges the women N4,000 before a tractor from the council is released to plough an acre of land, Yinka reveals.

“And ploughing is just a part of the process in preparing the land for a successful farming session.” ‘The tractor must harrow and also ridge to complete the three stages. Anything short of these processes will not bring about a good yield.”

That’s approximately N12,000 needed to get an acre of land ready for a season of farming, excluding the cost of hiring the service of one farm labourer which Yinka puts at N120,000 over a 10-month period. “And that’s way out of the reach of the women here,’ Yinka moans, ‘so they have learnt to farm their lands without looking up to the local government for help.”

If that is not enough to dispirit you, then hear this. Ago Amodu is just one of the five towns bubbling with a crowd of poor women farmers in saki east local government. Others are Oje Owode, sepeteri, Ogboro and Agbonle–all of them jostling to hire tractors from the Saki East local council for their agric ventures.

Except that the local council has a different idea. This newspaper learnt that only two tractors out of the seven the state government brought to the local council recently are left at the council’s secretariat.

“The local government decided to auction the tractors, leaving only two to service the five towns,’ the women lament to the reporter.

“The two tractors left aren’t enough to go round farmers who scramble among themselves to meet up with the planting season all at the same time. Well, if you are lucky, you may get to lease it if you have the money. Otherwise you have to prepare the land yourself,’ says Serifat Anifowose.

The rush is understandable indeed. The farmers either plant when the rains are still coming or they don’t plant at all, Yinka narrates.

“No irrigation system, despite the fact that the local government has a rig that could be used to drill boreholes on the farms to help the farmers.”

“Now, farm produce will be scarce during dry season because of lack of water, but if we can find someone to give us boreholes and pumping machines, we can form ourselves into groups and make use of it to farm all through the year,’ Yinka reasons.
At the Mercy of Shylocks

Farming all through the year sounds like a precursor to a season of massive harvest and gains. Right? But, again, not for the unlettered women of Ago Amodu who fall prey to the antics of Shylock middlemen from Ibadan and Lagos who troop to the forsaken village to buy farm produce at miserable prices.

“We produce but hardly make any serious gains. People just come to buy our farm produce cheaply and go elsewhere to sell it at high price simply because there is no government to regulate prices,’ the women mourn.

“Supposing there is a fixed price, farmers will earn more,’ Yinka says. ‘For instance, a bag of corn in the north is 100 kilogram, but in Oke Ogun here, there is no measurement. Buyers just come and pack as much as they want until they are satisfied.’

‘And on top of that, they determine how much they want to buy the produce, not us. A bag of corn here sells for between N5000 and N7000, but right now, those who have bought it cheaply from us are now selling a bag for N17,000. So it is just like the women are working for some shylocks who come to reap their profits.”

Three days into the reporter’s excursion, and the women are still whining about their ordeals on the farm.

“Do you think government will read your story and come to help us?’ a particularly frazzled woman sitting among a group of cassava peelers asked the reporter.

This poor women, obviously, are looking to a government whose gender sensitivity has no grassroots appeal. And the reporter knows the women will have to toil on for as long as their bones can carry them to eke out their livelihood in such a hardscrabble environment.

The fallout of this insensitivity has always been a cycle of poverty, especially in the rural regions where women take much of the heat. Nigeria, along with other nations of the world, devoted the last 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals trying to halve poverty, among the eight elements of that agenda. Yet it has little to show for it now.

Poverty and gender equality have again made the first and fifth positions in the 17 items of the new global development plan–the 15-year-long Sustainable Development Goals. Nigeria’s performance will definitely be measure by the experience of Yinka, Anifowose, and other rural women drudging in tears and sweat to survive as farmers.

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