Changing the Fortunes of Women Farmers

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In Nigeria, women farmers work hard to till and cultivate farmlands. They seldom own the lands they work on but make up the largest percentage of workers on them. But Synergos, a non-profit organisation, is working to change the narrative as part of efforts to minimise rural poverty and feed the Nigerian populace. Chineme Okafor writes

“We are not telling them what to do, we are listening to them and trying to find out what we can do together. Most states don’t have policies on agriculture and this is the first time most of them are thinking about setting up policies on agriculture because of the current revenue crunch.

“We are investing in the role of women in agriculture. 70 per cent of agriculture workers are women, yet they are poor. If women make money, it goes to the family, if men make money, maybe it goes to the family, maybe another wife,” said Adewale Ajadi.

Ajadi is the country Director of Synergos Nigeria, a non-profit organisation that recently got support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work with rural subsistence farmers in Kaduna, Kogi and Benue States to develop solutions to confront the difficulties they come across when they cultivate their grounds.

He explained to THISDAY when Synergos organised a hands-on workshop in Abuja to kick start the pilot scheme and where select female and male smallholding farmers from the states met to brainstorm on some of the best solutions available to help them overcome the challenges they put up with in their farms, that this time, greater thoughts were devoted to widening the space for rural women farmers to play big in the ancient but dynamic sector.

He admitted however that the subtle introduction of gender slant on its approach was to accommodate and improve on the efforts women bring to the mix. According to him, the choice was deliberate and would also be implemented tactfully without raising unnecessary prejudicial dusts.

His reasons just like that which Italy-based World Farmers Organisation (WFO) had proffered in the past were simple – women do not have access and control over the lands they till and cultivate even when they provide the largest percentage of the workforce available for the agricultural sector, in that way, there are deep cultural practices that must be appreciated in trying to improve their productivity and profitability in agriculture.

“Our work is to work on all of these dimensions and not to be blinded by what is politically correct and what is difficult or what dimension one government wants,” explained Ajadi.

He further said: “We are working with the farmers to make sure that for the first time in a generation, we are moving away from people being rewarded by virtue of who they know to a new system of people being rewarded for what they produce.”

“We have to do it with them because these are cultural practices that span generations. If we come and dictate to them saying they must treat women this way, they will shut us down and it will not work.
“If we can find things that can put women in a position where they are earning from their hard work, then we are not working through the husband but through them,” he added.

According to Ajadi, “there are products from cassava that if we can get the pastoralists to use for their cows, sheep and goats, it will reduce conflict that we see today. So, we have these products, people who produce cassava, who does the scrapings of cassava peels that are the foundation for this, it is the women, and these are new products.”

The WFO, an international organisation of agricultural producers that aims to strengthen farmers’ positions within the agriculture value chains, and with a particular focus on smallholding farmers, had recently credited women farmers for helping to sustain growth recorded in rural economies and food security.

The farmers’ organisation said that women farmers, who constitute 43 per cent of the world’s agricultural labour force have, through their efficient efforts in farming fields across the world, provided countries the backbone on which their agricultural sectors have thrived and survived over the years notwithstanding the extant limitations that are often before them.

Buttressing WFO’s assertions, Ajadi said that what Synergos intends to do with its new scheme – the State Partnership for Agriculture (SPA), was to raise the bar for the subsistence farming often engaged in by women and others to become profit yielding ventures across the three select states first.

He said: “What we are working on in a country where agriculture is about to be the critical factor, is that we are being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work with states to make sure that their agricultural system produces and is more effective.”

“Now if you look at it from the point of view where we are coming from, the states are really the ones that have landnfor agriculture and they are also the ones that have the farmers. Our goal is to listen to the states and engage them to produce the solutions that work, so we are trying to create solutions in clusters across states.
“We are looking at making the agricultural systems in Nigeria to be effective and deliver starting from these partners from Kogi, Kaduna and Benue states. We can work on the system, see its challenges and also see where we want to be in the future.

“We are working on that and also nutrition because being hungry is not actually the problem of nutrition. In actual fact, in Nigeria, the more rich you are, the less nutritionally rich you will be and so there is an invisible hunger and micro nutrients are not going to where they should go,” explained Ajadi.

He noted that Synergos was committing to reduce global poverty through its plans. These plans he explained would push for stable partnerships with state governments in ensuring that agricultural practices especially amongst women are more efficient, effective and transformed from subsistence farming to business.

He said the plan is to utilise a systems-change approach in reorienting and improving the capability of these key actors to practice agricultural systems that would rather become transformational.

At the centre of this transformational agricultural system, Ajadi said was the focus on gender inclusion and nutrition-sensitive approaches to food production, particularly cassava and rice.

“With the projection of a doubling of the population of Nigeria by 2050 and the perennial challenges facing production and processing of agricultural commodities, there was need to change the face of agriculture in Nigeria,” maintained Ajadi.

Through the SPA, he disclosed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded programme would provide farmers in Kaduna, Kogi and Benue with new farming techniques available in other developed countries of the world.
“Our approach to Nigeria’s agriculture is to ensure that federal and state agricultural leaders themselves drive agricultural transformation while Synergos will provide the craft necessary for the systemic change across the complex issues of poverty,” Ajadi stated.

He also clarified the reasons why Synergos set up the Abuja workshop, saying, “this would ensure working top-down and bottom-up to take a holistic approach to agriculture which includes linking federal and state level solutions to create a cohesive and coherent approach.”

“We intend to change people’s mindset, shifting thinking from agriculture as an isolated underdeveloped sector, to agriculture as a transformational growth opportunity which can impact gender equality and improve nutrition,” he added when he spoke more on the need to help women realise the inherent economic potential in what they do at their farms.

According to him, Synergos would work with the leadership of the agricultural ministries in the country to advance progress on a small number of high-priority interventions which he hopes would demonstrate tangible results and build the momentum with which the adopted model and approach could be introduced to other parts of the country.
“We need to begin to see agricultural practices differently from what it is now. Our choice of gender inclusion is not necessarily to say that our men don’t do agriculture but to say that this sector has more women in its labour force, how then do we begin to translate their efforts into tangibles. We also need to find a way to let our youths get back to agriculture,” Ajadi said.