Ramatu Ladan lives in Karshi, a farming community suburb of Abuja.
Photo: © Emmanuel Itodo

Nigerian female farmers raise their voice

In addition to gender-insensitive laws and limited access to land, the situation of women farmers in Nigeria is not helped by the drudgery and physical demands of rural farming and having to combine this with caring for families. Now, they’ve found a voice to challenge the status-quo.

Faith Debaniyu Ibrahim is a Professor of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management at the Federal University of Technology Minna, Niger State, Nigeria. In a keynote address at an event organised by recently founded Nigerian Women for Agricultural Progress (NWAP) in Abuja, in March 2024, she postulated that gender-based marginalisation of women in policies and decisions fostered by unwritten norms and traditions was one of the factors limiting women’s agricultural productivity. She also highlights the factor of a legal system spanning the customary laws of Southern Nigeria and the Sharia law of the Northern part of the country that concentrates too much power in the federal system at the expense of subnational levels of governance, where these laws would be more effective. 

And although the “National Gender Profile of Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods – Nigeria Country Gender Assessment Series” jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission in 2018 underlines actions to redress it, the weight of limited access to land remains on women. There have not been any significant changes in women’s capacity to influence agricultural policies at national and subnational levels.

Women also face barriers in accessing quality seeds. In an article, published in January 2024, entitled “Transforming Nigerian female farmers’ lives through soybean and cowpea production to alleviate poverty” on its website, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Ibadan, Nigeria, notes that“Small-scale farming is the backbone of global food production, contributing to approximately 80 per cent of the world’s food supply. This sector ensures food security and serves as a vital source of employment, especially for women. On average, women constitute 43 per cent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries; in some nations, they form the majority. Across sub-Saharan Africa, women play a crucial role in agriculture. However, men dominate the agricultural labor force in Nigeria, accounting for over 70 per cent. Unfortunately, female farmers often face productivity challenges compared to their male counterparts.”

The article highlights some of the several challenges that women farmers face to include:

  • Unequal access: Women encounter barriers in accessing quality seeds and other essential inputs. This inequality hampers their agricultural productivity.
  • Knowledge gap: Limited access to information and training affects women’s ability to adopt modern farming techniques and best practices.
  • Cultural norms: Sociocultural norms restrict women’s mobility and decision-making power, impacting their effectiveness in farming activities.
  • Time constraints: Women primarily engage in post-harvest handling and processing of crops like cowpea and soybean. These responsibilities limit their time for direct cultivation.

Excluding women “in their own interest”

Many different examples show how women still suffer from disadvantage and exclusion. 

As in numerous regions, in Urhonigbe, Edo state, women’s involvement in agriculture is not matched by the space to take related decisions. At the onset of a planting season, different community clusters of farmers have to hold customary meetings to allocate portions of the community’s land to members according to individual capacities and pedigrees. However, no woman is involved in any of the meetings or in the land allocation missions.  

A member of the community, Osazuwa Aigbekaen, a male, rationalises the exclusion of women from teams that handle land sharing, arguing: “It’s a very tasking exercise. It lasts for several days and involves wading through bushes to carve out land portions. It will have to be a heartless community that subjects its women to such an arduous exercise.” And then he throws the bombshell: “It’s in their own interest to be excused from it. Are women complaining? No woman has ever raised any issue on this.”  

The situation of women is not helped by the drudgery and physical demands of rural farming and having to combine this with caring for families. With schools and health facilities not located around farming communities, millions of children miss out on an education and are susceptible to epidemics. Several factors, including epileptic electricity supply, high cost and insecurity of transportation, lead to women bearing much of the burden of post-harvest losses. In recent times unprecedented numbers of cases have been reported of women and girls being raped on farms with the upsurge of insecurity in several parts of Nigeria.

Laitu, a native Gwari woman farmer in Kuje, narrates how a neighbouring village, Kpavun, was serially ransacked and locals kidnapped. In one night recently, 10 people were kidnapped; in another, 12 were abducted and one killed. Some of the women who survived the ordeal reported having been sexually abused by their abductors. Like Kpavun women, says Laitu, Kuje women have resorted to going in groups of 10-15 to the farm. 

Paala Mabala, a woman from Adamawa state, forfeited access to farmland belonging to her erstwhile partner. She then headed with her children for Abuja to continue farming, the only occupation she knows, in the Kuje area, where the scourges of Boko Haram attacks, threats of kidnap and uncertainty of access to farm land have added fuel to her injury.

Empowering Nigerian female farmers

After centuries of their voices being muted under the overbearing male-dominated leadership of farmers’ associations, bright prospects for effective advocacy to redress women’s exclusion seem to be on the horizon. A body known as Nigerian Women for Agricultural Progress (NWAP), led by Omolara Svensson, has risen to the occasion. Launched on the 24th January 2024, NWAP aims to empower Nigerian women through comprehensive support, education, and opportunities. Moreover, it wants to create a landscape where women in agriculture are recognised as key contributors to the nation's food and economic security.

“We women were not speaking with one voice,” Omolara Svensson notes, in reference to motely organisations claiming to be fighting cause of women but not raising the pertinent issues, and with deficits in addressing gender-related issues in agriculture. 

Tom Odemwingie and Omolara Svensson, president of Nigerian Women for Agricultural Progress (NWAP). Photo: © Oluwadamilola Omotosho

One of NWAP’s immediate priorities was to advocate for the restructuring of the agricultural administration system, Ms Svensson declared at the inauguration of state coordinators of NWAP in all 36 states and the federal capital territory of Abuja on the 7th March 2024. “It is unfortunate that ministries of agriculture in Nigeria do not have departments for women in agriculture. How then can they fully address the plight of women, who do more than 70 per cent of work in the food chain?” she asks.

Although it has representatives in all the states, the exact strength of its membership is yet unknown, as creates awareness about its formation and register members, who are expected to be in millions, given Nigeria’s huge female population.

Decisive responses unfolding

In 2019, Nigeria launched the National Gender Policy on Agriculture. With support from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) under its Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), the policy promotes the adoption of gender-sensitive and responsive approaches in the agricultural sector, including equal access to and control of productive resources by men and women. 

In response to the prevailing food crisis in the country, the Nigerian government has approved 93 per cent subsidies on selected farm inputs to women farmers for the current planting season.

The National Assembly has committed to legislate against practices that exclude women from the processes of policy formation in agriculture. The security agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force, have been placed on the alert to ensure safety of farmers.  

Tommy Odemwingie (tommyodemwingie@gmail.com), based in Abuja, Nigeria, is a journalist and writer on development. He has worked for several UN agencies and international NGOs.

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Comments :

  • user
    Ehimwenma Odemwingie May 26, 2024 At 2:12 pm
    Very good article! While most people look at the bigger picture in problem solving, they fail to notice details that can lead to a qualitative change. Some supposed 'negligible' problems have higher risks than the open ones. These women are occupied with the difficulty of farming, have little time to their kids--who are the future of society, and even lesser time to take care of themselves.
  • user
    Oghogho Arthur Obayuwana May 23, 2024 At 10:46 pm
    This article draws attention to a fundamental issue that has food security embedded in it. Women need this kind of voice. The entire country needs an agricultural revolution to be taken seriously!
  • user
    Thomas Ighodaro Odemwingie May 23, 2024 At 5:05 pm
    Insightful and well-researched article! Engaging writing style and thought-provoking points. Great job, and looking forward to more.