Women are the Pillars of Nigerian Agriculture

Wherever one goes in Nigeria, from the north to the south, rural small holder farmers produce over 70% of the total food crops. Over two thirds of women in these areas are actively involved in agriculture.

They grow all kinds of food crops like vegetables, beans, cassava, potatoes, Hungary rice (acha) and so on.

In some communities, majority of the men have moved to the cities looking for greener pasture either as government job seekers or construction workers, taxi drivers, Okada riders, security men in companies, electricians, the list is endless. Their wives, children, sisters and even mothers in some cases are employed in the agricultural sector in the rural areas.

Women farmers are the pillars of African agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, majority of women in Africa are engaged in the agricultural sector and produce nearly 90 percent of food that we consume in the continent.

However, the major hindrance to women’s empowerment in Nigeria is their lack of access to decision making processes, full participation in grassroots governance, as well as their limited access to Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) input distribution.

What also slows women efficiency and productivity is lack of access to agro loans. Loans are important for securing fertilizer, improved varieties of seeds and other technology for farming. Most women farmers are not able to obtain loans without a male guarantor or without going through their husbands. This is due to institutional barriers and gender constraints.

The federal government recently announced a N15 billion agricultural loan scheme for farmers to enhance productivity in the sector. Vice President Namadi Sambo, announcing the facility said the loan scheme will be given to farmers at single-digit interest rates. According to him, the funds will be handled by the Bank of Agriculture for onward disbursement to farmers.

Laudable as the boost is, key questions remain critical: How will women who constitute the backbone of the rural labour force, access this N15 billion agricultural loan scheme? What will be the paper qualification in terms of collateral for this category of farmers to access the fund?

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Director, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in southern African said: “A combination of logistical, cultural and economic factors, coupled with a lack of gender statistics in the agricultural sector, mean that agricultural programmes are rarely designed with women’s needs in mind. As a result, African women farmers have no voice in the development of agricultural policies designed to improve their productivity.”

In Nigeria, women constitute the majority of the rural work force. These women do not even have access to land because of cultural practices. Yet, they are the most active in rural agriculture. In fact, in some societies in Nigeria, they feed their families and pay their children’s school fees through what they produce from their farms.

These women are more likely to utilize this loan better in farming than their male counterparts. But will they have equal access to this fund? What about the cumbersome nature of collateral requirement? Will majority of them have what it takes to get it? The bottom line here is for the government through the relevant agency handling this fund to relax the collateral requirement so that this group of farmers will benefit significantly from the scheme.

Reports from the African Development Bank (ADB) funded projects in the agriculture sector show that “farmers have made significant gains by adopting improved crop varieties and technologies, but productivity has not come close to full potentials along the commodity value chains. Integration of small holder farmers, particularly women and youth, into the scheme was not sufficiently prioritized in the past interventions.”

It is in view of these challenges that the Agricultural Transformation Agenda Support Programme (ATASP) phase-I of the Africa Development Bank (ADB) will gulp the sum of N36 billion and will create 120,000 jobs along the selected commodity value chain especially for women and youth in four selected processing zones in the country within a period of three years.

Over the years, women farmers find it extremely difficult to get credit facility from the commercial banks at double-digit interest rates. In fact, these categories of farmers do not even meet the collateral requirement for agricultural loans by the lending commercial banks in the country.

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), responding to this situation says, “we must de-risk the financial value chain and the agricultural value chain to ensure quality lending to agriculture. NIRSAL will do just that and transform mindsets on lending to agriculture by banks.”

The CBN has set aside 500 million dollars (N75 billion) to stimulate lending into agriculture leveraging the Nigerian banking system. The apex bank estimates that by increasing yield and acreage, production can grow to a massive 160% by 2030, rising from N14.85 trillion in 2010 to N38.4 trillion in 2030.

Analysts say that the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) – a government programme meant to get subsidised agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and seedlings directly to farmers and cut out long-established corruption engendered by the middlemen in farm inputs distribution do not create the desired impact on the women farm holders.

Many rural women farmers find it difficult to even buy a bag of fertilizer at N3,000, which is subsidised at 50% by the federal and state governments with each contributing 25%. This is still high for the small farm holders in the country. This is why the Katsina State government under Governor Ibrahim Shema decided to further bring the price down to N1,700 per bag so that every small scale farmer could afford it. This is commendable, and should be emulated by other states of the federation.

The distribution of improved seedlings by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development still faces some hurdles and does not get to the small scale farmers in most rural areas of the country as planned. The Ministry of Agriculture must study these flaws carefully with the view to designing more workable strategies to reach small farm holders all over the country.

A small scale rural-women-friendly agricultural loan will be a welcome development for the sector as that will go a long way in boosting productivity. Since these small farm holders reside largely in the villages, a more village friendly scheme will slow down migration and put more money in their pockets and different varieties of food on their table as well.

Dr. Victor Inyama , Chairman, Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN) said recently in an interview with Daily Trust, that commercial banks agricultural intervention favours big time male farmers. “They are ready to give them money; but how many Nigerians do these big time farmers feed?” He argues that until the small holders are given the most needed assistance, the country will not realise her agricultural potentials.

The federal government must take adequate steps to address infrastructural decay or lack of it completely in the rural areas including building farm settlements in most of our rural communities to attract the youth and women who have the energy and time to sustain the sector.

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