Blacksmithing, the highly skilled and eons-long trade of crafting items by forging metal with a hammer and an anvil, could become a lost art in northeast Nigeria because of the 13-year insurgency which resulted in many thousands of people fleeing their farms to avoid relentless and deadly attacks by insurgents.
With the loss of farmers, the need for specialised farming equipment – such as light hoes, grab-hoes, rakes, sickles, bolos, hand trowels, scythes and axes – became somewhat dispensable and the craftsmen blacksmiths’ work took a heavy toll with the decline in the demand for agriculture tools and equipment.
Now that the insurgency has abated to some degree in certain parts of Borno State, blacksmiths are hopeful that demand will pick up and they will soon be back in business.
Some blacksmiths told RNI that their businesses took a heavy hit because of the halt in agricultural activities during the insurgency. They said before it began, their businesses thrived especially when the rainy season drew nearer. But since then, their businesses had suffered and these days, even though more people had been given permission to return to their farms, they hardly made a profit.
Blacksmith Modu Mangai said: “Our businesses used to sustain our livelihoods, but the insurgency has changed everything and we no longer make a profit. Our businesses have declined over the years because of the Boko Haram crisis, which largely affected farming activities. And, because most of our customers are local farmers, the insurgency also affected us and the work we do.
“Before this Boko Haram crisis, we could invest ₦20,000 in the business and it would be enough to buy all the necessary equipment to make agricultural tools and the business was very profitable. But now, even if you invest ₦100,000, you won’t make a profit because the prices of everything have increased, including the prices of metals and charcoal, among other materials used by blacksmiths.
“Especially when the rainy season was approaching, we made huge profits. But now, even though the wet season is beginning, there is low demand for our products, such as light hoes, crowbars, rakes, grab-hoes and sickles and other essential agricultural tools.”
Bana Ba Usman, the chairman of the Blacksmiths’ Association of Borno State, said: “The blacksmith business has suffered a lot for 13 years now. The Boko Haram crisis greatly affected all aspects of agribusinesses, ranging from irrigational to seasonal farming activities, not only in Borno State but also in the entire Lake Chad Basin. We are specialists in creating all kinds of agricultural tools. And we even used to export our tools to our neighbouring countries, such as Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. But now, our products are no longer in demand, even here in Borno, let alone in other countries.
“Many blacksmiths help local farmers, especially those who are very poor. That’s why we don’t have fixed prices for our agricultural tools. Sometimes, some poor farmers will come to us looking for help and we will give them the required agricultural tools they need. Sometimes we provide these farm implements free of charge or as a loan, with some farmers promising to pay us later.
“Despite the challenges we face, over the years we have recruited many unemployed youths as apprentices, mostly of them the children of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and some orphans who don’t have any other means of livelihood. They depend solely on this business.
“Both the farmers and blacksmiths need the government to support us so that we can continue our businesses as we did before. We hope that the issue of insecurity will one day be history, a thing of the past, so that farming activities will resume to the fullest, giving us the work we rely on. God willing.”
SHETTIMA LAWAN MONGUNO