By Gena Lubem
The responsibility placed on the shoulders of women in the rural areas to meet the daily food need of most families cannot be overemphasized. More often than not, they make significant contribution to food production and processing, but men seem to take more of the farm decisions and control the productive resources. For instance, in the area of land acquisition, in the rural areas, the women seems to be completely relegated to the background and made to depend entirely on the piece that the men folk may ‘graciously’ apportion to them.
In fact, it has been alleged in some quarters that as women play a dominant role in agricultural production; agriculture appears to be the occupation of 70.3 per cent of Nigeria rural women.
While presenting a paper on the topic: “Gender Issues in Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria: The Role of Women”, Yemisi I. Ogunlela and Aisha A. Mukhtar, of departments of Public Administration, Faculty of Administration and Agronomy, Faculty of Agriculture, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, noted that, in as-much-as, such is the plight of women “yet it is known that agriculture has the largest chunk of the poor for women, the poverty is compounded by the fact that only 8 percent of women hold title to the land they work on”.
Most farmers in Nigeria operate at the subsistence, smallholder level in an extensive agricultural system; hence in their hands lies the country’s food security and agricultural development. Particularly striking, however, is the fact that rural women, more than their male counterparts, take the lead in agricultural activities, making up to 60-80 percent of labour force. It is ironical that their contributions to agriculture and rural development are seldom noticed. Furthermore, they have either no or minimal part in the decision-making process regarding agricultural development.
Gender inequality is therefore dominant in the sector and this constitutes a bottleneck. The women-in-agriculture programme in Nigeria, which was established in cognizance of this and the shortcomings in extension services for women farmers, saw the emergence of women groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil societies that gave rural women farmers a voice in order to effectively champion their cause. Even at that, many barriers remain and would have to be addressed to further enhance their role. Rural women farmers deserve better recognition and greater appreciation of their tangible contributions to agriculture and rural development as well as food security.
For the whole of Nigeria, economic considerations are a major determinant of the extent to which women are involved in farming and agro business related activities, as against processing and trading. Once men move out of farming into such non-farm occupations as factory work, mining and distribution of industrial goods, women take up food production for home consumption and for sale, regardless of which ethnic group they belong to, although in relative terms the restricting influence of some religion on the women in some parts of the country must be acknowledged.
The women are mainly involved in the production, processing and trading of such food crops as maize, rice, cassava, yam and palm oil. They are rarely connected with agricultural export crops such as cocoa, cotton and groundnuts.
Even though in the past, some woman farmers organizations and the civil society were established to harmonise the role of women involved in agriculture related activities with that of their men counterparts, no concrete achievement was not recorded in that regards. Such groups which confronted the issues in the 80s included Women Farmers’ Advancement Network (WOFAN) and Women-in-Agriculture in Nigeria (WAN) among others.
While writing in one of the national dailies, Michael Aderohunmu insisted that, “the sector needs to advance and leverage on knowledge and capacity to transform ideas into marketable products that result in new business value addition. This is essential because trends and dynamic business environment require organisations to quickly sense market change and detect where the future demand may be. Redundancy from these financial institutions as a result of the reforms of the banking and financial institutions generally can be a potential human resource for the agribusiness sector, because the sector is a very dynamic and innovative one that has the capacity to absolve, train women in agribusiness knowledge and skill acquisition”.
Coming at the heels of the establishment of the ministry exclusively set aside to address the plight of women in all its ramification in Nigeria, more efforts aimed at alleviating the plight of women in the country were said to squarely placed at the doorstep of the minister in charge of the ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.
The general understanding has been that, women in the rural areas need access to basic resources like revolving fund that would serve as social support initiative. Activities of such fund would greatly contribute to the success of the Agriculture Transformation Agenda, ATA, of the present administration as well as fast track the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Nigeria.
Again, as women contribute significantly to the development of the sector in terms of what is consumed in the country, the Nigerian government should make it possible for women to massively enjoy the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Women in Agriculture in order to raise the access bar of women to agricultural land, inputs and resources, as well as make them benefit from the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) programme.
There is also an urgent need to put in place systematic and comprehensive strategies to empower women in rural areas to maximize their potential which has a tendency of combating extreme poverty and hunger, and help them facilitate sustainable development in their communities.
If rural women had equal access to productive resources, agricultural yields would rise and hunger would decline because empowering women requires a transformation in the way governments devise budgets, make and enforce laws and policies with the aim of including trade and agricultural policies that will engender small and medium, enterprises businesses.
No wonder in the 56th Special Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, New York, United States it was stressed that, all the structural, cultural, social and economic barriers that prevent rural women from participating fully in the economic and political life of their countries must be eliminated.