Despite being regarded as the backbone of Nigeria’s agricultural systems, responsible for producing larger percentage of foods and feeding families, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC) have said that smallholder farmers are confronted with a lot of deprivation and an array of daunting challenges. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), smallholders are small-scale farmers, pastoralists, forest keepers, fishers, etc. who manage areas varying from less than one hectare to ten hectares.
They are characterized by family-focused motives such as favoring the stability of the farm household system, using mainly family labour for production, and using part of the produce for family consumption. In other words, these are farmers who specialize in cultivating a relatively small amount of land to produce food for the family as well as to sell to others for money. They usually employ the labour of family members and only contract others when necessary.
Why smallholder agriculture is needed for sustainability.
While they are not being given the credit meant for them, this set of the global workforce is needed for the food system in the whole world to remain sustainable. The FAO’s report on “Smallholders and Family Farmers” reveals that 80 percent of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is managed by smallholders (who work on up to 10 hectares each). Also, out of the 2.5 billion people in poor countries, who survive directly from the food and agriculture sector, 1.5 billion people live in smallholder households, many of which are extremely poor.
These farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the report, “Their economic viability and contributions to diversified landscape and culture is threatened by competitive pressure from globalization and integration into common economic areas; their fate is either to disappear and become purely self-subsistence producers, or to grow into larger units that can compete with large industrialized farms.” Interestingly, small-scale fisheries contribute to 46 percent of global marine and inland fish catches. This rises to 54 percent in developing countries.
Nigerian small-scale farmers often have limited access to resources.
At a workshop on climate change adaptation for small-scale farmers in Nigeria on July 18, 2023, with the theme, “Adaptation for Smallholder Farmers and Responsive Public Policy: A Faith-Based Response,” president of CAN, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, and president of OAIC, Elder Israel Akinadewo, highlighted these challenges in their respective remarks. The OAIC president was concerned that these sets of farmers work tirelessly with little or no help to feed communities, yet they are often confronted with limited access to resources, climate change-induced uncertainties, market volatility, and social inequalities.
He commended their resilience and determination, saying that they are awe-inspiring. They cultivate the lands, nurture crops and sustain Nigeria’s food system. Akinadewo stated that they need support now more than ever. He referenced a statistic that indicated that smallholder farmers make up a significant proportion of the world’s rural population, with over 500 million individuals relying on small-scale farming for their livelihood. He said that since their well-being is intrinsically linked to the social, economic and environmental fabric of society, it is imperative that their unique needs, challenges and aspirations are understood and addressed.
Okoh urged church leaders to speak out on these issues.
As the elder advocates responsive public policies, which would serve as catalyst for change and an enabler to adapt and thrive in the face of adversity, so is Archbishop Okoh challenging church leaders to speak out loudly on issues that concern small-scale farmers. He said, “The food insecurity we face in Nigeria today is because of the unending crisis particularly in northern Nigeria, in addition to bandit activities, in which subsistence farmers are mostly affected.”
Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN: Website