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Nigeria: Farmers use watering cans to grow maize during dry season

It’s early in the morning and very cold. Abbas Jaafaru Julde is already awake and in his maize field busy drawing water from the nearby river with a watering can. His smile shows that he enjoys what he is doing.

He explains, “I have to irrigate my maize this early before the sun rises. I have been doing this since 2009 when I decided to start growing maize in the dry season.” 

Mr. Julde says that he irrigates his crops early in the morning because as soon as the sun rises, the water becomes hot and can evaporate from the plants.

Mr. Julde’s farm is located in the Saminaka area of Kaduna State in Nigeria. He says that, although many small-scale farmers in the area grow maize during the rainy season, he decided to also grow the crop in the dry season in order to make more money.

But water is a limiting factor during the dry season. Mr. Julde explains: “There are no irrigation facilities around our area to ease our farming work during the dry season. I have many hectares of farmland, but I only grow maize on one hectare during the dry season because of the shortage of water.” 

He adds, “Even this river is not reliable because at certain times of the year it dries up and we are forced to fetch water from a well that is very far from my farm.”

To reduce the stress of travelling the long distance to the well, Mr. Julde usually plants early, at the onset of dry season, between late September and mid-October. This early maize is then ready before December, which is the middle of the dry season.

Mr. Julde says that because the area has no irrigation system in place and lacks boreholes, he is using a watering can to irrigate his maize. He adds, “We have already appealed to the government to assist us with irrigation facilities so that we can grow more maize and other crops during the dry season.”

Amina Abdulkadir is another farmer in the area who grows maize in the dry season. The 47-year-old mother also irrigates her maize with a watering can, her baby strapped to her back. She says, “Although it is labour-intensive to irrigate maize with a watering can, I need to do this because I have to support my husband with the money I get from dry season maize farming.”

Mrs. Abdulkadir says that, though it is not easy to water all the crops in the farm with a watering can, this year, she decided to try a new maize variety that was introduced to her by a friend. 

She explains: “My friend told me about a variety that matures within 70 days instead of 90. With this early-maturing variety, the crops mature before the soil becomes dry, which is when it needs more intense watering.”

Shamsu Ado Zakari is a researcher and senior lecturer at Audu Bako College of Agriculture. He says that dry season farming is helping many farmers to cope with inconsistencies in rainfall and a relatively shorter rainy season. 

Mr. Zakari explains: “Unfortunately, farmers that are growing crops during the dry season are beset with many challenges, especially the shortage of water for irrigation. This is limiting their output.” 

He says that farmers should adopt smart agricultural practices like planting early-maturing and climate-resilient varieties as a solution to climate change, including erratic rainfall patterns. 

Dr. Zakari says: “There are many maize varieties that mature within 60 to 70 days. We also have those that can resist harsh weather conditions. I believe that if farmers can adopt these, they will not face many problems.”

Mrs. Abdulkadir has a National Certificate in Education but she explains that she chose farming over paid employment because farming is more profitable. She says: “With dry season farming, last season I harvested 40 bags of maize and I earned over 800,000 Nigerian naira (US $1,600). This money helped me a lot in taking care of my family.”

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and its project “Green Innovation Center for the Agriculture and Food Sector” in Nigeria.

Photo: Abbas Jaafaru Julde in his field of dry season maize. Credit: Joseph Chibueze.