Empowering Local Women for Agricultural Transformation in Nigeria

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It’s no longer news that agriculture is the oil of the future; and until the Nigerian society acknowledges that women are central to national economic growth and sustainability, we might as well be joking. According to the Country Director of African Development Bank, Ousmane Dore, 70% of the agricultural workforce in Nigeria is made up of women (Premium Times, 2015). However, these women, despite their extensive investment of time and labour, record neither output nor profit proportionate to their input. Certainly, this is an anomaly that needs to be fixed.

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Basically, empowering women in agriculture goes beyond social media debates; and this is in no way meant to undermine any such conversation if it exists. Rather, this is a call to action – for all stakeholders to make women a priority in ongoing strategic plans for agriculture in Nigeria.

In this piece, we bring to the fore some of the areas that require both our institutional and individual attention.

Landed Resources

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Land is one of the most valuable resources Africa, and Nigeria by extension, has. Whether we truly know and mine this asset is another thing. However, the fact remains that arable land is a standing resource that we have in abundance. As surplus as this resource might be though, many Nigerian women still do not have free access to own land and landed properties.

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In the recent past, and till date, in certain regions, local customs do not even permit women to inherit land. Currently in some cultures, women who own their own farmlands cannot scale beyond the level of subsistence farming, with which they cater to their household food need. This is because they are expected to look up to the male figures in their lives, who in turn do not live up to the responsibility.

Without doubt, many organisations, locally and internationally, are making interventions to facilitate gender-based redistribution of landed resources, resulting to more women now owning land in rural communities. Still, the struggle for women in agriculture does not end with land ownership.

Finance and Inputs

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Generally, as indicated by Growsel-led Researches, less than 2% of local farmers in Nigeria have access to institutional funding. As a result of this already narrow margin, the chances are even slimmer for women. Even in areas where women can now own land, they are still marginalized in terms of access to finance and input distribution.

Typically, women do not have equal access with men to agricultural resources such as enhanced seeds and fertilizers that are supposedly meant for the general public. In some regions, women cannot freely join the local associations that manage the dispatch of information and input distribution among rural farmers. In many cases, grants, apart from those specifically designed for women, are received by male figures on behalf of their family.

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Although there are many initiatives that claim to cater to the promotion of women in agriculture, they are still run according to existing social standards; i.e. they undermine women’s potential by only providing them with just enough resources to support farm activities for their household use. Perhaps this is due to the erroneous belief held in many cultures that women are incapable of as much productivity as men. In view of this, full measures should be taken to ensure that female farmers are given equal opportunities with their male counterparts.

Reproduction and Healthcare

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According to World Bank estimates, as much as 821 maternal mortality cases still occur in every 100,000 live birth in Nigeria. In a March, 2018 news report, Vanguard Newspaper maintained that “only 37 percent of births happen in health facilities with skilled healthcare personnel.” These numbers only go to show that women are not given the healthcare priority that they should have.  As a result, they are more vulnerable to low productivity as a result of women-related illnesses including childbirth complications. The toll that child births and its entailed roles take on women’s physical and mental composition cannot be undermined. Therefore, considering the role of women in agriculture, it is important that effective measures are taken to ensure their continued wellbeing.

Apart from mortality and ill health, many women are subject to patriarchal directions in terms of child bearing and family planning. Some women are forced to continue giving birth until “they produce” a preferred gender. To be fair, some women continue to get pregnant by their own choice; choices mostly governed by ignorance and cultural “programming”. This miseducation can be fixed with the development of strategic and consistent sensitization programmes tailored per region which are then deployed across age groups and social ranges. Though some notable organizations like the United Nations are already doing this, there is still some ground to cover.

In all, allowing women to have equal say in their reproductive decisions could mean they will have more time and put more effort into commercial agriculture at whatever scale each person can manage. This is because the demand on their time due to household chores and responsibilities would have been reduced.

Mechanisation and Technology

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Image: Voice of Nigeria

Many women today are still relegated to the labour intensive ways of manual farming, an approach that limits their productivity. If the vast majority of women involved in Agriculture are equipped with appropriate tools and technology, it will portend great potentials for agriculture for Nigeria. While it is true that even men in the rural areas where most farms are domiciled do not yet have free/open access to mechanized farming, this plight is worse for women. This is because only few women, if at all, especially among the rural dwellers have access to the kind of funding or even network necessary to acquire such technology.

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Tackling the plight of female farmers is not another “feminist shenanigan”. It is in fact a vital conversation that would affect the socio-economic development of Nigeria in a future that has already begun.  It is to our advantage as a country if we overcome obstructive socio cultural norms that have done nothing but keep us from attaining our full potentials as far as agriculture is concerned. While these norms are demeaning to women, they are also detrimental to the society at large.

In this regard, Growsel is supporting and equipping female farmers, particularly those in rural areas, with the skills and opportunities needed to boost their productivity. That is why the Growsel Team employs a process-driven system that is free to all, but tilted towards rural women. This system acknowledges women as individuals with equal rights; hence it aims at supporting them to gain financial independence.