by Yusuf Ishaku Goje
Agriculture remains the most viable vehicle towards addressing issues of poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality, and unemployment. In Nigeria, the agricultural sector continues to play a significant role in economic development with a multiplier effect on the economy and contributes immensely to the gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “agriculture is up to eleven times more effective than other sectors in reducing poverty”. However, the sector has over the years received little attention from governments at the state and federal level.
Deriving maximum benefits and utilizing the vast opportunities available in the agricultural sector; critical stakeholders in the public, private and non-governmental organization (NGO) are expected to come together to chart a common strategy. This strategy is expected to address numerous challenges that have crippled the sector over the years. In view of this, the present government through policy statements has made its intention clear to diversify the Nigerian economy by targeting the agricultural sector. However, the sector continues to witness a wide gender gap that is affecting the effort to develop and maximize the potential of the sector.
As it is with other critical sectors of the Nigerian economy, enormous economic role played by women in the agricultural sector has remained barely supported and undervalued. In contrast to their male counterpart in agriculture, female participants in the sector have relatively narrow access to funding, inputs, trainings, extension services, land, technology, markets and decision making opportunities. Available reports have shown that female participants in the sector represent only 8% of landowners, access only 10% of available credit and 5% of extension services. This has restricted a large number of women at the level of subsistent farming, with the men dominating the commercial and lucrative aspect – largely exacerbating gender inequalities.
However, Government at all levels through their policies, programmes and budgeting processes over the years have failed to address the structural and social disadvantages that inhibit women farmers from commercial agricultural production. In detail, women farmers being the primary actors in Nigerian agricultural sector are largely marginalized by government policies which appear to have little focus on supporting and strengthening their capacity. The most effective way to maximize the multiplier effect of government investment in unemployment and wealth generation as a whole is channeling it through women in agriculture.
The private sector is not also left out from the marginalization of women in agriculture, especially commercial and microfinance banks. They have mostly remained unresponsive to the disadvantages that cripple women farmer’s eligibility to access funding, mainly in the areas of collateral and interest rates. Special consideration must be given to women farmers, because with greater gender equality or rather equity in agriculture, the benefits would be far-reaching especially in reducing poverty among other economic gains. Attention must also be placed on the role of microcredit in supporting women in agriculture. This is a development inclusion strategy that needs to be strengthened, due to its capacity to provide credit for poor women farmers who are usually excluded from formal credit institutions.
This is so because women farmers comprise 60-80% of the labor force in agriculture and they produce 80% of basic foodstuff in Nigeria. They also work on average 12 hours or more per week than men farmers and earn on average three quarters of their income from agricultural activities. We should not be quick to forget a large number of women that are fully engaged in post-harvest food and by-product processing. Their entrepreneurial spirit is usually choked to dead due to lack of adequate and timely support, as they are expected to compete in a market that favors and is dominated by men.
In view of the above and realities of the urgent need to diversify the economy through agriculture, critical stakeholders particularly in Kaduna state have identified bridging the gender gap in the sector as a way out. Just of recent, the Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED) partnered with the Kaduna state Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry and Ministry of Women Affair & Social Development to proffer solutions in addressing the issue of gender gap in agriculture. The program was held on the 14th July, 2016 at the Women Multi-purpose hall, Kaduna; with the theme, “Bridging the Gender Gap: Increase Access to Funding & Participation of Women in Agriculture”.
The program had in attendance critical stakeholders such as the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry, Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development, Non-governmental Organizations, Licensed Microfinance Bank Association- Kaduna, Agro-Allied businesses, Corporative groups, women farmers and media agencies. With over two hundred (200) participants, the interactive program brought up a number of issues that continue to hinder the effective mainstreaming of women in the agricultural sector especially as regards policy, structural and social constraints. The women farmers in attendance also highlighted some of the challenges they face as that of access to funds, lands, extension services, fertilizer, chemicals, processing machines, feeder roads among others. At the end of the program a number of resolutions were reached that will support the effort to bridge the gender gap in the sector.
It was agreed that a comprehensive approach driven by a common strategy needs to be adopted by key stakeholders in removing the socio-cultural and structural constraints that hinder gender mainstreaming in the agricultural sector. Also, government policies, programmes and interventions should recognize the peculiarities of women by including specific gender tailored criteria, requirement and balanced quota system. Furthermore, the capacity of the gender desk officer in the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry and the Unit of Women in Agriculture under the Kaduna State Agricultural Development Project (KADP) office should be consistently enhanced to ensure compliance and sustainability.
To ensure result based impact, a multi-stakeholders (Public-Private-Civil Societies Partnership) monitoring and evaluation team should be set-up to drive efficiency and effectiveness in terms of compliance to gender mainstreaming in the agricultural sector in Kaduna State. On the other hand, platforms should be encouraged that will strengthen the synergy between the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry and Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development in bridging the gender gap in the agricultural sector in Kaduna State. Finally, Commercial and microfinance banks need to revisit and reform their policies, products and services to be more gender specific and friendly, while yet being profitable.
In conclusion, it makes economic and social sense to support women in agriculture; because they are the primary actors in the sector. Increase in capacity, funding and inputs will automatically translate into improved productivity (food security), poverty reduction, nutrition, employment creation and revenue generation in Kaduna state. If women are empowered economically it will boost their confidence level; thereby, increase economic opportunities for them, and encourage them to participate in decision-making and leadership.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Yusuf Ishaku Goje is the Convener, Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED)