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Succour for women farmers as FG moves to implement Gender Policy on agriculture

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By Victoria Onehi

Relief seems to have come the way of women farmers in the country with the Federal Government’s plan to implement the 2019 National Gender Policy on Agriculture in view of the positive implications for their operational efficiency and brighter prospects for their incomes in the years ahead.

Presently,women  farmers face myrids of challenges.This include inadequate technology, poor extension services, inadequate land, lack of access to credit facilities, cultural/religious restrictions, lack of adequate infrastructure and gender biasis to mention a few.

It is important to note that women make up about 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population and are responsible for carrying out 70 per cent of agricultural labour, 50 per cent of animal husbandry related activities and 60 per cent of food processing activities but have access to less than 20 per cent of available agricultural resources such ase implements and funding which is a serious impediment to them.

Interestingly, one of the key recommendations in the Policy document is that 35 percent inputs and resources in the agricultural sector should go to the women. These include funds, farm inputs, fertiliser, seeds, e.t.c.This is to promote a 35 percent affirmative action for women – a policy that demands 35 percent involvement of women in all governance processes. The national Gender Policy (NGP) formulated a 35% Affirmative Action (AA) in Nigeria since 2006 while also progressively realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To implement this policy, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Dr. Ernest Umakhihe, recently inaugurated the National Gender Steering Committee to appraise some of the key issues that have arisen since the policy was launched over two years ago with a view to addressing them.

Consquently, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development with the support of the Development Research Projects Centre (dRPC) under Partnership for Advancing Women in Economic Empowerment (PAWED) held a stakeholders’  meeting with women groups in Abuja to hear their challenges and harness their inputs on how they feel the Gender Policy document should be implemented.

Kicking off the discussion with the slogan ‘No woman, no Food; No Food, No Nation’ during a meeting with the Steering Committee members in Abuja, the Chairperson of the Nigeria Association of Women in Agriculture (NAWIA), Madam Ngizan Chahell, said women had moved from seeing farming as subsistent to a viable business.

She explained: “We have taught women new methods of farming for them to have a better yield. And in Benue State, we use to have 3 percent allocation in the budget to Agriculture but it has been increased to 7 percent. With this new Gender Policy, we want this committee to ensure that our state government increase it to 35% as stated in the policy. With that done, our women will be better empowered.” 

Also, the President of the Association of Women in Trade and Agriculture (AWITA), Mrs Ruth Agbo,  said there was the need for women to be given better implements/equipment as processing of agricutural products are currently done manually.

While noting that 60 percent of agricutural processing is done by women, the women farmers leader listed some of the challenges facing the farmers as including lack of capacity to produce more because they are manually operating. 

As a way of addressing the challenges, she advocated: “We need better technologies to help us process agricultural products like cassava massively. We need technologies that are gender-friendly too.”

Corroborating the AWITA leader’s position, the Gender Advisor, dRPC, Dr. Plangsat Dayil, said many activities of women in agriculture were still labour-intensive,  particularly as the instruments they use is still crude. 

She clarified: “They are not fully into commercial agriculture, so the space is a little bit challenging. Also, now we have security challenges and to access farmlands is a challenge for women. Again, in many communities, women do not have access to farmlands.

“So, we tell the women to use the means of the Gender Policy on Agriculture launched by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to advocate for some of these issues”, Dayil added.

In her remarks,  Head Gender Desk at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs. Ifeoma Anyanwu, explained that  the committee was set up to address the challenges raised by the women and address them.

According to her, the Committee as its first goal has started its work and it has been able to conscientize the mental attitude of stakeholders, development partners on gender issues in agriculture and address them.

This is even as she disclosed that the Committee had “been able to popularise the Gender Policy documents. We have gone to States to create awareness about the policy.”

The Chairman of the Steering Commitee and Food and Agriculture Programme Coordinator of ActionAid Nigeria, Mr. Azubuike Nwokoye, said the committee would harness the support and inputs of stakeholders at the meeting and at federal, state and local government levels to ensure that the policy is implemented well.

He expatiated: “Engagements has started happening and the Policy has been approved for domestication and implementation in all the 36 States and FCT as at the last 44 National Council of Agriculture Meeting which is the highest decision-making body for the Agriculture Sector. Some organisations have taken it forward.”

Nwokoye listed some of the organisations as including the smallholder women farmers participating in ActionAid Nigeria programmes who are getting inputs, solar dryers, equipment, funding support and labour saving technologies from the civil organisation

Similarly, the National President, Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), Mrs. Mary Afan, commended the Federal Government’s efforts in coming up with the Gender Policy on Agriculture, stressing, however, that successful implementation of the policy is important in order to achieve its objectives.

The SWOFON leader said: “The document is a full document and also have the implementation strategy. It is a document that the women are holding onto to be able to hold government accountable. Now if you don’t have a policy in place, you can’t ask government anything. Since the passing of the policy, we are now talking to government.”

“The Policy says 35 percent of all inputs should go to women farmers. Also, whatever support government is giving, 35 percent should be given to women. This includes inputs, fertilizer, seeds and funding.”Afan added.

She urged the government to remember to include the 35 percent allocation of inputs and resources to women farmers in subsequent federal yearly budgets.

The woman farmer maintained that when you are talking about policies, budget remained one of the instruments of implementing government policies, adding that “hence, when government is planning the next budget, they should remember that the 35 percent allocation should go to the women farmers.”

In his concluding remarks at the meeting, the Permanent Secretary of the FMARD, who was represented by the Deputy Director who also is his Special Assistant on Technical Issues, Mallam Shaibu Ummah, assured the participants that the policy had taken care of many of the gender issues in the document discussed during the meeting

According to him, when the policy was formulated/prepared, the Implementation Plan was also prepared which guides all the partners and stakeholders in implementing the policy to the letter. 

He promised: “The government is prepared and there is no cause for alarm because everything is there. It is all encompassing.”

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