“COVID-19 came with a lot of challenges especially for a smallholder farmers like me,” says Junmai Emmanuel, a 45-year-old widow with four children.
Jummai started farming as early as eight, with her parents in Dorowa Babuje in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, North Central Nigeria. They farmed all sorts of crops and vegetables, from potato and maize to tomatoes and cabbages.
After her marriage, she continued farming in the same location, but this time potato was her main crop. Along with her husband, she planted an older variety of potato seeds. According to her, they often lost much of what they could grow.
“Our potatoes used to spoil and get rotten even before harvest because we did not know the exact time and how to spray chemicals against disease,” she says. She adds that they weren’t aware of proper storage procedures.
“We used to store harvested potatoes in a closed room without ventilation parked on a pile. As a result, we experienced huge losses.”
Radio helps improve potato yields
After her husband’s death, she was introduced to the new variety of seed potatoes by a friend who advised her to also listen to the Farm Radio International interactive radio program on Irish potatoes, sponsored by GIZ, the German development agency, on PRTV Jos, Plateau State.
The Radio Enabling Green Innovation project uses interactive radio and mobile phones to encourage farmers to improve their farming techniques when it comes to Irish potatoes. PRTV Jos’s program Dankali Rumbun Arziki, “Potato is the hub of wealth” in Hausa, now has more than 250,000 listeners.
Junmai is one of those farmers. She decided afterwards to take out a small portion of her land (0.01 hectares) to try out what she heard on the radio. She planted 50 kg of improved seed potato on that land. The results were impressive. She harvested 300 kg from that small portion of land. She says she’s both been able to keep her family fed and reserve some seeds for next farming season.
“Our standard of living has improved since my husband’s death.”
Adapting to COVID-19
Unfortunately, COVID-19 presented another obstacle for Junmai.
Nigeria took immediate action when a pandemic was declared and closed markets across the country.
“I could not sell my harvested potato in order to raise funds to purchase more seeds and fertilizer for expansion for my farm,” says Junmai. As a result, she says her family had to eat the potatoes she had reserved for sale in order to purchase the variety of vegetable and food items necessary for a balanced meal.
“We could not afford a hand sanitizer and my children were also at home because the schools were all closed, this also put a lot of pressure on the food at home,” she says.
“The farmer radio program became my saviour.”
Junmai said she followed the program step-by-step, episode-by-episode. She received information on from start to finish on where to purchase seeds at a good price; how to monitor the farm and spray pesticides against diseases; and information on which markets were open, where to sell the potatoes, and at what price.
Additionally, she says the medical personnel who were always invited to the program gave vital information of how to take precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Had it not been for the radio, “I would have groped in the dark relying only on information from other farmers or hearsay, which turns out most times to be in error.”
The Radio Enabling Green Innovation project in Nigeria aims to increase knowledge and uptake among agricultural smallholders of improved Irish Potato farming techniques. This project is supported by GIZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation, through its green innovation centres for the agriculture and food sector programme.
About the author
Blessing Ngozika Uwechia is Project Officer for Farm Radio International based out of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.