Leading an extensive farming system or large-scale processing of agricultural produce in the small town of Olla in Ejigbo, Osun State, is an exceptional feat that a handful of those thriving are like pearls on the community’s fabric. Principally, the bigwigs operating on commercial scale are top government officials or professors with investments planned towards postretirement sustainability.
Collectively, the women are notable for their efforts in raising large volume of vegetables that have for years fed Ejigbo, a 6.5 kilometre distance with fairer economy. But individually, they are only a component that functions under men-led subsistence farming framework. Naturally, men are adjudged entitled to farmlands while women’s access is tied to inheritance from husband or family bequeathal.
The trend which has lasted for years makes 58-year-old Juliana Tewogboye stand out as a successful garri processor over the last 18 years. Until two years ago, what could be described as her processing plant regularly received four trucks of cassava at N40,000 each. From that stock came grew a modest source of income for other women employed to peel, blend and fry. A fryer earned N1,000 for churning out 250 kilogramme of garri a day.
Although her husband is a conventional farmer with better access to family lands, she has functioned as the powerhouse of the family, with their current house funded from her business and their children trained to tertiary institutions. Essentially, she is a role model noted for her hard work and resilience despite the exploitations she faces at times from cassava suppliers.
But Tewogboye’s community is not enamoured of her exploits because it is perceived as an overexposure capable of undermining the authority of husbands. The perception is also nurtured by women with the belief they don’t need elevated business as long as daily meals were forthcoming and they could afford pieces of clothes for their wards.
Unlike her, Kemi Sangotokun, a mother of five in her 30s, received N200 from her husband for breakfast on the first Sunday of the year. She was to get a kilogramme of garri and return a balance of N50 on the basis that she could afford to support the home from the little she made from farming.
Her romance with farming and trading was not fancied by her husband but coming up with such support was her way to justify leaving for the farm early in the morning. Depending on the season, she tilled the land for vegetable, picked cashew nuts for sale or bought fruits from palm kernel farms during harvest. However, neither of these farms belongs to her nor can she easily have access even when she can afford.
“In our area here, if a woman wants to rent an apartment, she will first be asked where her husband is. If her husband is dead, they will release the apartment. But if her husband is alive, he has to come with her whether or not they are divorced,” explained Alice Oyesola, a veteran farmer who has spent 40 years farming on her husband’s farmland.
“That’s the situation with just renting an apartment, without even mentioning land ownership. Women can’t buy lands without the approval of men. If they sell to her without a man, there are chances she would be cheated later on,” Oyesola said.
Rural women in agriculture like her constitute over 70 percent of the sector’s labour force, toiling in and out of season, but their efforts are unable translate to higher economic advantage. The cultural limitation that narrows their land access has remained a fundamental factor at widening the gender gap in agriculture and has fostered a stereotype for the nature of agricultural activities women can undertake. Men are five times more likely to own a land than women, according to the British Council of Nigeria. In Olla, for instance, a demarcation already exists. One would mostly find men on their lands cultivating yam, cassava, maize, millet and cocoyam or own cashew plantations while women nurse the vegetables, pick cashew nuts, harvest palm fruits or raise poultry products on rented farmlands.
Owning a land is an incentive for farmers to invest in increasing productivity which in turn boosts their income. Consequently, lack of easy access to land limits their ability to raise productivity and also their chances at securing loans from the formal sector, which requires land as collateral.
A non-governmental and human rights organisation, Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), has been picking holes in how policies fail to protect and support women’s rights across the country but the success rate remains low with most states yet to key into helping women with the law.
Abiola Akiyode-afolabi, the executive director with focus on how empowerment of women in agriculture could be used to address the issue of hunger and poverty, believes the issue of women smallholder farmers is tied to the broader issue of gender inequality and discrimination against women. With the support of a patriarchal cultural norm, rural women have not had their voices amplified in policy issues affecting their lives and are yet to be involved in decisions that affect their livelihoods.
“None of the states have passed the law on land. All we have presently is a bill. In Benue state, they have a draft for gender policies and in Osun state; there is an executive order which the last governor didn’t sign. So we are pushing for this governor to sign it,” she said. “Other states like Ogun and Kaduna have only passed the law on violence against women.”
While land access is a basic is- sue, women also wrestle with other worries from poor access to inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, labour and financial services to training or insurance than men.
Olla women who are yet to make it to the level of Tewogboye’s scale many times find it arduous to get workers in the various stages of processing compared to the rate with which men get labour.
Because she can’t expand her workforce in the processing of cassava for instance, Yemisi Olorode, a single mother of five has to visit the principal at her children’s school at the beginning of the term to appeal for a special period of grace for school fees payment. For her first son in junior secondary school level three (JSS3), she needs to be permitted to pay his N5,000 school fees in three tranches and needs same for the last child whose bill is even only N1,500.
In modern agricultural value chains, growth of contract farming or out-grower schemes for high-value produce through which large-scale agro-processing firms seek to ensure a steady supply of quality produce have increased over time. Such schemes could help small-scale farmers and livestock producers overcome the technical barriers and transaction costs involved in meeting the increasingly stringent demands of urban consumers in domestic and international markets.
Yet, female farmers are largely excluded from the arrangements because they lack secure control over land, family labour and other resources required to guarantee delivery of a reliable flow of produce. While men control the contracts, however, much of the farm work done on contracted plots is performed by women as family labourers. Women work longer hours than men in vegetable contract-farming schemes controlled by male farmers.
Studies found that productivity on women’s farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men, ranging from 13 to 25 percent but closing the gender gap could increase yields on women-run farms by 20 to 30 percent and could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent.
Although a World Bank report established that equal access to resources does not necessarily guarantee equal returns for women farmers, it underscored the need for specialized agricultural training and customized support to ease their double work load as farmers and caregivers.
The right resources, the bank says, could help rural women maximize economic opportunities, increase productivity, improve food security, education and healthcare, since women tend to reinvest in their households.
In some of the strategies designed to address the issue, it proposes that microfinance institutions and other financial service providers with presence in rural areas can play a key role in supporting women farmers. And in terms of linkage with agricultural value chains from processing to marketing, involvement of women can make traditional farming more productive and commercially viable.
The impact of the lack of land access could also be minimised through the deepening of women’s knowledge of farming techniques and technologies which can be adapted to rural women’s needs.
On the broader scale, enabling women farmers is projected to be more productive, benefit Africa’s next generation families in which women influence economic decisions to allocate more income to food, health, education and children’s nutrition. Also, improving gender equality through agriculture could further translate into a generation of Africans who are better fed, better educated and better equipped to make productive contributions to their economies, within agriculture and beyond.
David Tsokar of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Nigeria said operating environments in agriculture needed to be modelled towards promoting the participation of women and youth, which the organisation was doing in rice seed production.
He said the organisation was also supporting technical assistance to sustainable aquaculture systems for Nigeria which has been developed to help small scale farmers for diversification of livelihoods in rural areas, to improve nutritional status and increase income-generating capacity. “The project is currently being implemented in Ekiti, Osun and Ogun states,” he said.