As I walked through the town with my interpreter to the house of Baba Mohammadu Dangana, popularly called “Sarkin Noma” (king of farmers, in Hausa), to speak to on a newly introduced fertilizer policy that works via mobile phone, I watched and listened intently as curious townsmen came out of their houses to have a glimpse of the newcomer.
They whispered among themselves, probably wondering what my mission was; even the children were not left out of the excitement buzzing around them that morning in this calm agrarian community.
Farming has been the main source of livelihood for about 70 percent of Nigeria’s population; it is the one occupation that has continually supported the growing population of the country despite income generated by crude oil, the highest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But access to fertilizer, improved crop varieties and mechanized farming are the major challenges that small holder farmers in the country face due to corruption in the distribution of government subsidized input.
After years of advocacy and giving voice to farmers by the media about the rot in the sector, the Federal Government introduced a new subsidy policy - the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) - to be realized by sending subsidy vouchers directly to farmers through their mobile phones without the involvement of middlemen.
The scheme began with a farmers’ registration exercise to build a data base of the nation’s farmers.
Baba Dangana, who is the head of farmers in his community, said they were supplied fertilizers for this farming season, but through companies and not from government officials as was the practice many years back.
“We received fertilizer this year but it was not from the government, it was from some companies. We got messages on our mobile phones and we were told to go and buy fertilizer and seeds from the company.
“Many of our people did not get it because they do not have mobile phones, while some didn’t even know what was written in their handsets which made them to lose out.
“The old system is better for my community since it ensured that everyone got fertilizer whenever it was made available to farmers. Some of our women also benefited,” he added.
Another farmer, Mrs. Maryamu Agidi, was not lucky to be among those who benefited from the subsidy in her village, Sabon Tasha, because she failed to do the registration.
“As you can see, some of my crops are not doing well and this is mainly because I did not apply fertilizer,” she lamented. “I planted maize, millet, guinea corn and bene seed, but my farm did not do very well.
“I was tired of going to queue up under the sun for hours and not getting any fertilizer or seed. “They only gave those that were in the registered list of farmers, she added.
She hopes government would revisit her community so that she can register since she does not have money to buy fertilizer from the open market between N5,000 and N6,000 Naira per bag.
However, her husband Luka was able to register but he was shortchanged by the distributing company which only gave him two bags of fertilizer without seeds.
Far away in another village, Jere, in Kaduna State, farmers said they have never had it as good from the Federal Government as they now access government subsidy with ease.
“I harvested over 10 bags of Maize last year when I planted just one tier of the improved maize seed that government gave us,” says Kasimu Sarkin Noma, whose 5-hectare farm is located at Makarfin Jere.
If I plant a full bag of the improved variety they gave us this year, I can harvest more than 20 bags. Last year and this year, my crops did very well,” he said.
Farming rearing livestock are the main source of livelihood for residents of this small village and after many years of difficulty in accessing fertilizer, they say government has finally done the right thing.
Sarkin Noma however expressed fear on the sustainability of the new system saying, “Our only fear is that they may stop sending us the text messages on our mobile phones.
The “Magajin Askan Jere”, Abdullahi, showed me his nearby maize and tomato farms.
He said he got a voucher through his phone after he registered during the registration exercise in 2011.
The farm has well-nourished maize plants bearing two cobs of corn each which he said were planted from the improved seedling he got from the government at the cost of N6, 000. (The amount covers two bags of each of fertilizer and seeds).
“I got two bags of fertilizer and two bags of improved maize seedling. We were given all this at a cheaper price compared to how we suffered and spent a lot of money to get it in the past.
Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said the electronic voucher system was a success in 2012 when it was first implemented with over two million registered smallholder farmers.
Out of this number, 1.5 million were able to benefit from the subsidy using their mobile phones and this, according to him, has impacted 7.5 million people.
He said over 3.5 million farmers have received their subsidized inputs via the electronic wallet scheme this year and the system has saved the country about N25billion in 2012 alone.
In Bauchi State, the commercial farmers are angry. They said the government had sidelined them and only catered for the smallholder farmers. They said the distribution system is faulty since it did not carry them along or make provision for them.
Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, a farmer in Katsinawa area in Tafawa Balewa local government area of the state is one of those affected, he was therefore unable to access the product. But the Commissioner for Agriculture in the state, Alhaji Tasiu Mohammed, has denied allegation that some names were not on the list of registered farmers.
* Additional contribution from Ahmed Mohammed, Bauchi.
This report was produced with the support of The African Story Challenge @ African Media Initiative.