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Nigeria: COVID-19 affects farm labourers’ incomes

It’s early Sunday morning, the temperature is about 25 degrees Celsius, and the rainy season has just begun. With a sombre face, 40-year-old Murtala Abbas ties a small radio and a rice threshing stick to his bike and cycles slowly, listening to the radio. Mr. Abbas is travelling to work at a rice farm about 10 kilometres from his house.

He says: “I used to be very excited at the beginning of every rain season because I was finding more work to do on the farms and I was making more money to support my family. But this year, the situation is different because COVID-19 has negatively affected my work and my income.”

Mr. Abbas is a farm labourer who lives in Bari ward in the Rogo local government area of Nigeria’s Kano State. He has three wives and 13 children and has been working on rice farms for almost 20 years.

He says the government required people to stay at home five days a week between mid-April and mid-July. This meant that Mr. Abbas and other farm labourers could only work two days a week on rice farms.

He says his income dwindled drastically and he had never faced such a difficult situation. Mr. Abbas explains, “Before COVID-19, my income per day was 900 Nigerian naira ($2.32 US), but when the lockdown started, I was getting 400 Nigerian naira ($1.03 US) per day.” His daily rate decreased because the lockdown limited the number of hours he could work on the farm even on his working days.

His family had to cut down to two meals a day. He adds, “The price of food also increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there was no support from the government to us farm labourers.”

Sagiru Rogo is a farm labourer from Liman village in Kano State. He says the reduced amount of work on farms because of the lockdown hit his family hard and he was unable to buy food.

Mr. Rogo explains: “With ten children, I could barely afford three meals for my family due to low income as a result of COVID-19. I had a bicycle, which I was using to go to work at the farms, but I had to sell it to support daily expenses due to the low income I experienced.”

He adds, “Things were very difficult because I also had to postpone the wedding of my daughter due to the pandemic and the lockdown.”

Jumalo Ado is another labourer who works on farms in Kano State. She says she didn’t believe in COVID-19 at first, but her thinking changed after listening to the radio. Now she follows precautionary measures such as washing her hands with soap, observing social distancing, and using a mask whenever she goes to work.

Mrs. Ado says that the farms where she works faced financial challenges because of COVID-19 and because of this, labourers received food instead of money.

Mr. Abbas says it’s a big relief that the lockdown period is over. He says he will work hard to make more money to support his family, but he’s still afraid. He explains: “Although I’m trying hard to make more money as a labourer, I am afraid because the cost of living has increased because of COVID-19 and I am yet to experience if what I will be making will be enough to buy food and other items.”

To cope with the impact of COVID-19 and prepare for the possibility of a future lockdown, Mr. Abbas says he will start businesses that can help him earn an income during such difficult times.

He explains, “As a contingency plan for the future occurrences of lockdowns, apart from working in the farms, I will start a small business such as selling firewood and coal.”

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Photo: Farmers in northern Ghana head to the field, 2015. Credit: Jesse Winter / Farm Radio International