Agriculture contributes significantly to Nigeria’s economy. It is the largest employment provider with female smallholder farmers providing more than half of the labour.
The International Fund for Agriculture says 38 million Nigerians are smallholder farmers with women involved in all aspects of agriculture in the country.
These range from food cultivation to serving the food at home. Women also engage in livestock production, marketing and food processing.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation also says women comprise about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force globally and in developing countries such as Nigeria.
They play important roles in various aspects of sustainable development. This includes being a bulwark against hunger and poverty in rural areas. For instance, while smallholder women farmers produce for local consumption, big-time farmers – mostly men – usually produce for export and for industries.
Notwithstanding this critical role, women, are held back by unequal access to resources, especially finance that would help to make them more successful. Majority still struggle to access affordable financial services to develop their farming operations and livelihoods.
Mrs Bosede Anifowose, Coordinator of the Smallholder Women Farmers of Nigeria (SHOWFON) in Kwara identified lack of access to credit as a major challenge facing farming businesses.
Anifowose grows maize, cassava, guinea corn at Offa in Offa Local Government Area of Kwara, but laments that inability to secure loans had limited her chances to cultivate hectares of land.
Another farmer, Mrs Rukayat Ibrahim, from Apa community in Asa Local Government Area of the state, said aside inability to access loans, she faced the challenge of buying fertiliser at exorbitant rate with consequent negative impact on her yield at harvest.
Rukayat identified the lack of modern farming equipment like tractors and harvesters as another challenge.
“It is only recently that we began to learn how to make organic fertilisers and manure from wastes particularly cow and poultry dung and yam peel.
“We barely make enough money to take care of our needs, not to talk of sponsorship of children to school. Nobody knows where to go for assistance and this problem continued until the intervention of an organisation that taught how to produce fertiliser locally,’’ she said.
Iyabo Babatunde grows maize, soya beans and yam in Gbago, a suburb of Ilorin. She noted that lack of motorable roads to move farm produce to big markets was another form of hindrance to successful agriculture business.
“Failure of our government to realise that women in agriculture need capacity building for high productivity and food sufficiency is a concern as well,’’ she lamented.
In 2019, however, the Kwara State government began to make budgetary provisions farm inputs for women farmers to improve their productivity.
Kwara SHOWFON coordinator, Anifowose, said the innovation followed eight years of advocacy by women in agriculture in the state on the dire need for inclusion in the yearly budget.
She said that the women farmers, after many years of exclusion and neglect in public policy on agriculture, came together to form SHOWFON in 2012 to canvass for due recognition.
SHOWFON, she said, began advocacy for gender-responsive budgeting in Kwara with technical and financial support of Nigeria’s wing of ActionAid, an international NGO through its partner, the Centre for Community Empowerment and Poverty Eradication.
Anifowose said that with the supports, SHOWFON embarked on advocacy visits to relevant government institutions in Kwara, particularly to the state’s House of Assembly, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and Economy, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, among others.
“The efforts paid off with the eventual inclusion of inputs for women in agriculture in the 2019 budget. The articulated advocacies and agitations to bridge gender disparity, made government to realise the need to provide incentives for women farmers,’’ she said.
According to her, the government for the first time, distributed inputs such as knapsack sprayers, agro-chemicals and improved seedlings to SHOWFON members.
“With the provision of these inputs, women farmers in Kwara were able to cultivate more and recorded better harvests,’’ Anifowose affirmed.
She explained that the assistance might explain the relatively cheaper cost of food items in Kwara when compared with neighbouring states.
“Since we are the type of farmers who sell for local consumption, our volume of production for the year was encouraging and this may be responsible for the drop in the price of food items in the state”, she said.
The SHOWFON leader said the higher yields also reduced poverty among members and wished that the state government would sustain the tempo for other states to immediate.
She opined that if the desired recognition was accorded to women in agriculture, shortage of food items would soon be over in Nigeria.
“If the country is desirous of sustainable agricultural practice, rural farmers who are responsible for the production of a large proportion of Nigeria’s locally consumed foods must be given special policy considerations just like those given to commercial farmers who produce for export,’’ she argued.
Anifowose called on her counterparts in other states to replicate the Kwara advocacy for gender-responsive budgeting in agriculture, through a similar approach. This according to her is the way towards achieving the much-talked-about food sufficiency for the nation.
She said it was more necessary now that the Nigerian government had partially closed the nation’s land borders against the importation of all forms of foods that could be produced locally. She advised farmers to take advantage of the policy.
Ibrahim supported Anifowose, averring that the singular distribution of modern inputs to farmers for the year ensured noticeable increase in food production by women.
She explained that many viewed the inputs as a form of capacity building and empowerment. She also confirmed an increase in harvests.
Mrs Memunat Yinusa, a farmer of yam, maize and soya beans from Kaiama in the Kaiama Local Government Area of Kwara still believes that there are other weighty challenges that needed the attention of the government than the budgetary inclusion.
She said scores of women farmers in the area lacked access to land for farming due to cultural beliefs that women do not own land. Besides, she said, the larger portions of the land in the area belong to the National Park.
“Yes, state government has begun to show sign of responsiveness to gender issues in terms of agriculture budgeting, but the issue at hand is more than that. Despite the huge production of yam and yam flour here, which is serving the country today, the state of roads in this area is too deplorable, making it difficult for us to move our produce out of this place,’’ she lamented.
She also noted the challenge of unavailability of storage facilities in the hinterland and encroachment of farmland by herdsmen, saying these and many others are what government would need to address for sustainable agricultural practice.
In his view, Dr Tunde Arosanyin, a trustee of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, described budgetary allocation for women farmers as a good development. This, he said would encourage women to be more active in agricultural production.
HE said the approach was developed in Ghana and was successful, urging women farmers’ associations in other states to borrow a leaf from their Kwara counterparts and advocate for budgetary inclusion.
“Kwara State in general will witness increased food production with this development if the issue of herdsmen is checked. It will also create more employment opportunities for women,’’ he said.
As Nigeria strives to attain food sufficiency, it is imperative for governments at all levels to help women in agriculture to attain higher productivity.
One of the ways to guarantee food security is to provide succour for smallholder farmers, particularly women, who are vulnerable, yet, play a critical role in the food value chain.
Yearly provision for farmers in the Appropriation Act of states and the Federal Government, if purposely managed, would soon lead to abundant food production in the country. It may also signal the beginning of solutions to other outstanding issues in the agriculture sector, particularly as they affect women. (NAN)