By Usman Aliyu
Agriculture contributes significantly to Nigeria’s economy. It is the largest employment provider, with female smallholder farmers making up more than half of the number of agricultural workers.
The International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), says 38 million farmers in Nigeria are smallholders, a figure that represents about 20 per cent of the population. It added that smallholder women farmers were involved in all aspects of agriculture in Nigeria.
These range from producing food on farms to putting it on plates. They are involved in planting crops, livestock production, harvesting, marketing and processing of farm produce as well as food preparation and family care.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, 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 – mostly produce for export and industries.
Notwithstanding this critical role, women, are held back by unequal access to resources, especially finances, that would help make them more successful. Majority still struggles to access affordable financial services to develop their farming operations and livelihoods.
Mrs Bosede Anifowose is the Coordinator of the Smallholder Women Farmers of Nigeria (SHOWFON) in Kwara state and identified lack of access to credit facilities, among others, as a major challenge facing her farming business.
Anifowose grows maize, cassava, guinea corn at her farmland in Offa, Offa local government area of Kwara state, but she bemoaned how she would cultivate hectares of land with the hope of securing loans, but to no avail.
This, she said, hindered her productivity that could have been reasonable addition to the national food bank.
Mrs. Rukayat Ibrahim, another farmer from Apa community in the Asa local government area of the state, said she was always disturbed by no access to a growth enhancement input such as fertilizer, particularly, at a subsidised rate. This situation according to her decreased the volume of her harvest.
Ibrahim, said though she was born into farming, lack of capacity building on modern farming equipment made many women farmers in the area to record low harvests, and sometimes
“It is recently that we began to learn how to make organic fertilisers from waste particularly cow dung, yam peel and poultry waste.
“We barely made enough money to take care of our need, not to talk of sponsorship of children to schools. Nobody knew where to go for assistance and this problem continued until the intervention of an organisation on 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 their produce to big market was another form of hindrance for successful farming 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 said.
These problems, like in most states of the federation, they all said, persisted in Kwara state, until in 2019 when the state government, for the first time, made budgetary provision for farm inputs for women farmers to improve their productivity.
The feat according to Anifowose, who is the leader of SHOWFAN in the state, was as a result of series of advocacies in the past eight years, 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 SHOWFAN in 2012 to canvass for due recognition.
SHOWFAN, she said, began advocacy for gender-responsive budgeting in the state with the technical and financial supports of the Actionaid Nigeria through its partner in the state, the Centre for Community Empowerment and Poverty Eradication (CCEPE).
Anifowose said that with the supports, the SHOWFAN embarked on advocacy visits to relevant government institutions in the state, particularly the State House of Assembly, Ministry of Finance, Budget and Economy, as well as the State 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 in the state”, she said.
According to her, the government for the first time, distributed inputs such as knapsack sprayers, agro-chemicals and improved seedlings to members.
“With the provision of these inputs, women farmers in the state were able to cultivate more and recorded better harvests”, Anifowose said.
She adduced that the handouts may explain the relative cheaper cost of food items in the state 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 SHOWFAN leader said the action reduced poverty among members and wished that the state government would sustain the tempo for other state to immediate.
She opined that if the desired recognition was accorded women in agriculture, shortage of food items would soon be over in Nigeria.
“If the country is desirous of sustainable agriculture practice, rural farmers who are responsible for the production of a large proportion of Nigeria’s locally consumed foods must be given special considerations in policies, not just the commercial farmers who produce for export.
Anifowose called on her counterparts in other states to replicate an agitation for gender-responsive budgeting in agriculture, through a similar approach. This according to her is a leap way towards achieving the much-talked-about food sufficiency for the nation.
She said it was more necessary now the Federal Government of Nigeria had partially closed the nation’s borders against 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 productivity and harvests of the women.
She explained that many viewed the inputs as a form of capacity building and empowerment. She confirmed an increase in their harvests.
Mrs Memunat Yinusa, a farmer of yam, maize and soya beans from Kaiama in the Kaiama local government of the state still believed there were 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 belief 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 issue in term 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 said.
She noted, as well, challenge 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.
But in his comment, Dr Tunde Arosanyin, a trustee of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) described budgetary allocation for women farmers as a good development. This, he said would encourage women to be more active in agricultural production.
This practice, according to him, had been developed in Ghana over the years and proved to be successful, urging women farmers’ associations in other states to borrow a leaf from its Kwara State chapter and engage for budgetary inclusion.
“Kwara State in general will witness increased food production with this development if the issue of Fulani nomads is checked. It will also create employment opportunities among the women folks”, he said.
As Nigeria strives to attain food sufficiency, it is imperative for government at all levels to help women in agriculture attain higher productivity. Nigeria endangers her people if it remains insufficient in food production.
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 provisions for farmers in the Appropriation Act of states and the federation, 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.
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