FROM THE FARM By Dimieari Von Kemedi
Two weeks ago the reformist Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed constituted a new cabinet with an equal number of women and men. In doing this he set the stage for maximizing the potentials of his country. Like most other countries in the world Ethiopia still has a long way to go in setting standards of equality but it is expected that by establishing an example at the very top of the country the rest of society will catch up.
In a conversation a few days after the announcement an Uber driver expressed fear that supporting women to reach such heights could be a threat to stability of homes and society at large, as they would no longer respect their husbands and may abandon care of the household.
In one community I have worked with women are not allowed to plant rice. They may plant yam, cassava and other crops usually consumed at home but not rice which converts to cash. Here also a similar illogic is at play.
Many of our political and business institutions have abysmally poor female representation and participation. This weakens society and sustains poverty.
Imagine going into a boxing match with one hand tied behind while your opponent in the ring uses both hands.
In not providing equal opportunities to women in our society this is what we are doing. We are not mobilizing our full arsenal towards nation building.
Many excuses and fears may be expressed based on misinterpretation of religious and cultural norms but the truth is that none of these are correct. All religions in Nigeria preach equality and mutual respect. If this were not the case women would not practice these religions.
One area we can immediately provide equal support to all our citizens is in the funding and capacity building we provide for farmers. Going through names of registered farmers for the purpose of institutional support women hardly constitute up to 20% of most lists even though in farms there are sometimes a lot more women than men.
All institutions that support farmers should immediately mandate a new regime of equal opportunity for men and women to qualify for support.
With women earning more there will be an immediate impact on household standard of leaving as they invest in nutrition, education and health care amongst others.
Increasing female participation in farmer support programs may not be easy but there are steps that can be taken to expedite this process. These include appointing more women into boards of public and private companies that support agriculture such as the Central Bank, NIRSAL, Bank of Industry and Bank of Agriculture, all commercial banks and agricultural production, service, and processing companies.
According to the Food and Agriculture organization agriculture is employs 2/3 of the Nigeria population while the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development estimates that 75% of the farming population are women.
By these estimates providing equal opportunities in agricultural support for men and women will more than double Nigeria’s agricultural production output and contribution to GDP through improved yield and market opportunities. Therefore improving opportunities for women in agriculture must be an urgent food security priority.
Dimieari Von Kemedi works with smallholder farmers in the Alluvial Agriculture network.