Lagos and the Challenges of Urban Farming

6 Jul

By Tina Armstrong-Ogbonna

Mrs. Bolatito Oyinloye is a farmer of over 20 years in Ijanikin area of Lagos is often confronted with this question. “How can you tell me you are a farmer in Lagos? I don’t think so because Lagos is a commercial centre. The food we eat here is produced in the North and other states,” she was usually asked. These sentiments are what many small-scale farmers in Nigeria’s economic capital city are confronted with.

The fact that farming is a lucrative business in Lagos can be shocking information to many residence and visitors, who are of the opinion that Lagos is all about white-collar job in its various forms. Mrs. Oyinloye explained the plight she and her fellow farmers have had to undergo to continue to farm in Lagos, a city of over 18 million people. She says: “I became a farmer because my parents were farmers in this Lagos and it was from this job that my father provided for the house and was able to give my siblings and me basic education. I continued in the farming business after they died but, years after, I can tell you it is not easy to be a farmer in Lagos. I started with vegetable farming but now I am into fish production. I had to stop growing vegetables because I was not making enough money to assist my husband in providing for the family. Look at me, I only have secondary education but, with what I have suffered, I want my children to study in higher Institutions and I have two already in the university. “When I was into vegetable production, I could not predict what the outcome of the weather would be. Sometimes it rains a lot and our farmlands get flooded. The vegetables become rotten and we lose everything. We don’t get support from anywhere; even the banks are not willing to give us the so-called agriculture loan. They keep procrastinating and wasting our time. For how long will I keep waiting for their loan while my farming business suffers? Most of us small scale farmers have challenges with land. You know in Lagos, most landowners want to sell their land to the highest bidder. When we beg for land to farm, they tell us: How much do we make that they will give their lands to us? It was becoming frustrating and I don’t have any other business than farming. I had to borrow money from my friends and relatives to start fish farming. I still prefer fish farming to vegetable production; nobody will come and take or drag the farm land with me.”

Indeed, the world at large is threatened by food insecurity and Nigeria is not an exception. In Nigeria, 70% of food consumed is usually produced by small scale farmers, majority of who are women and this largely depend on the climate. These women farmers either support their family by providing additional income or are the sole bread winner of the family. This is the case in a farming community operating inside the Military Cantonment in Ojo Barracks in Lagos. The farmers are mostly wives of military officers and some widows whose husbands died in active service to the nation. The leader of the farmers, Madam Deborah Thomas, discloses that their produce is purchased by traders in different markets across the state. The women are mainly into vegetable production and few cultivate cassava. Madam Deborah explained that they have a daily market of vegetables that holds in the morning and evening. “During market period, you will see lorries and trucks coming to buy from us. Our vegetables are very healthy and fresh,” she states, lamenting however that they have no support from anywhere. “People living in the city don’t know we are the ones producing the vegetables they are consuming. If we have assistance from the government, we will be selling vegetables to much more people than what we are doing now,” adds Madam Deborah. Among the challenges the women farmers faced is lack of drainage within the farmland as they suffer loss of crops during the raining season. “Our farmlands get so flooded that we can’t even enter the farm. The women burn there wastes which are made up of vegetable stalks that could be used to make compost.” Programme Director, Human and Development Agenda (HEDA), Mr. Sulaiman Arigbabu, points out that these farmers are responsible for most of the vegetables, fish, poultry and live-stock consumed in Lagos, but that they lack support for large scale production. “We are working on a project to ensure these farmers are supported. If they should stop farming, do you know the effect it would have on Lagos? Food prices will shoot up and that is why we have organised training with them on climate change and also visited the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Agriculture with the farmers’ representatives. We are optimistic that help will soon come to them,” declares Mr. Arigbagu. The case of Epe, a coastal town that has boundary with Ogun State, is not different. Most of the farmers are into fish farming which include fishing in the rivers, streams and also fish production in artificial fish ponds.

A fisherman, Mr. Sikiru Adetunmobi, spends an average of six to eight hours in the river while fishing and, according to him, the night time is the best time to fish when the fish would be resting and traffic on the water reduced to the barest minimum. “The jetties that ferry passengers from the Mainland to Epe and other coastal communities affect the location of the fish. So I start fishing from 8pm till it is dawn like 4am and return back home. Before the raining season, it is easier to fish but once the rain starts the sea hyacinth covers most part of the river and we would not be able to fish,” says Mr. Adetunmobi. A 70-year-old former fisherman, who now makes fishing nets, Pa Jacob Ajayi, explains that the sea hyacinth was first noticed about 20 years ago along the waterways in Epe and, with time, it became dominant, constantly blocking the river during the raining season. He attributes the presence of the water hyacinth to pollution from the Ogun River, which flows into Lagos. For those into fish production in Epe, lack of fish feed is a major challenge to their business. Mr. Omole Simson, who operates several fish ponds, believes that that the establishment of a fish feed mill in Epe will alleviate the shortage of fish feed in the neighbourhood. “We have to go to Ogun State to buy fish feed and it is not supposed to be like that. Lagos State can construct a fish feed mill and boost fish farming in Nigeria. People come to our fish market from across the country but we don’t have government support to make this business more attractive. I know if the government pays attention to farming in Lagos State, we will be exporting food instead of the money wasted in importing food. Small scale farmers can feed this nation and even export to other countries. Our fellow fishermen that go to the rivers to fish make use of engine boats. These boats are expensive to buy so they resort to buying fairly-used boats, which would not last long before they start developing fault.” Food as a live wire would be cut short in Nigeria’s most populous city due to the challenges faced by small scale farmers. One of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. But Nigeria appears far from achieving this target in spite of its large expanse of fertile land.

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One Response to “Lagos and the Challenges of Urban Farming”

  1. lenrosen4 July 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Farming and fishing within Lagos – is this a formal or informal economy? What is the living accommodation for the people identified in your article? Informal settlement or officially sanctioned urban setting? I’ve been writing about Lagos in my study of urban settlement in the Developing World and recognize that it is probably among the fastest growing cities in the World.

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