BY WISDOM EZECHI
The active participation and recognition of women’s contribution across all value chains and processes in the food and agricultural landscape are critical for any nation’s economic and social development. Women contribute to over 50% of food production worldwide and over 80% in Africa through their roles as farmers, processors, and entrepreneurs. Yet, studies consistently show that female farmers have lower rates of agricultural productivity than their male counterparts. Given the critical role of agriculture in providing employment and as a source of livelihood for millions of African women, it is imperative to promote gender-transformative approaches to drive agricultural interventions across different value chains. There are lessons for Nigeria from Zambia’s efforts to promote equity in the food and agriculture landscape by developing and implementing policies prioritizing women’s participation in decision-making forums and providing holistic technical and financial support to women’s groups to strengthen their advocacy and engagement in policy-making processes.
The Gender Innovation Lab reported that across Nigeria, women farmers produce 30% less per hectare than men. Several factors drive this low production level, and women operate less capitalized firms and use significantly fewer inputs than men, who use over eight times more fertilizer and 50 per cent more herbicide per hectare. Also, male labour used by female plot managers is reported to be significantly less productive than labour used by male managers, which could be attributed to women having less time to supervise workers effectively or lacking the resources to hire more productive workers. Also, women entrepreneurs tend to sell their produce to the final consumer rather than businesses, which reduces their profit by 46% compared to firms that market to traders or other companies.
Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition, a management consulting firm committed to transforming Africa’s agriculture and nutrition landscape, is implementing the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development (FMARD) Capacity Support Project. With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sahel Consulting is providing critical technical assistance to strengthen FMARD to support the implementation of the Agricultural Development Strategy of the Nigerian Government. This support is in the form of targeted local, national, and regional training programs to build the technical skill of FMARD staff and ensure effective knowledge transfer across the Ministry.
As part of project activities, a study tour to Lusaka, Zambia, was conducted from March 12- 18th, 2023, to enable nineteen (19) key FMARD staff to gain a deeper understanding of gender issues and opportunities in Agriculture using Zambia as a case study.
The study trip provided a platform for exchanging valuable insights and experiences with various experts in the field, ranging from policymakers, union leaders, and small to large-scale farmers in Zambia. The participants visited different women-owned and women-managed farms in Lusaka, including the Tuzini Farms, an integrated farming company that grows tomatoes, green maize, groundnuts, onion, and Irish potatoes, for national consumption and exports to neighbouring countries. The owner, 38-year-old Maria Zileni Zaloumis, A.K.A ‘The Zed Farmer,” is not only recognized as Zambia’s youngest commercial farmer but is also the chairperson of Zambia National Farmers Union for commodities and an active member of the presidential advisory board on agriculture.
Situated in Chisamba, 10 miles to the northern part of Lusaka, Tuzini Farms Limited currently has 101 workers with over 60 women. This workforce produces over 300 boxes of tomatoes daily, translating to an average daily revenue of approximately USD 500. Tuzini Farms is one of the go-to sources of tomatoes for Freshmark (SHOPRITE) stores throughout Zambia, as well as the Masala market in Ndola and Chisokone market in Kitwe, which are some of the biggest markets in Zambia.
Zileni attributes the remarkable feat she has achieved as one of the best-performing commercial farmers in Zambia to hard work and the ability to leverage her network, which she has built over the years. This case further demonstrates the need for women farmers to have champions in the highest decision-making positions who will leverage their platform and network to change the narrative and create unusual business opportunities, as in the case of the Zed farmer.
Recommendations for Nigeria
Zambia has 81% of the land size of Nigeria and a population of about 20 million compared to Nigeria’s estimated 200 million people. Access to land and land allocation is less of a challenge for women farmers in Zambia compared to those in Nigeria.
For Nigeria to experience sustainable transformation in the role of its women in Agriculture, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) must adopt the following recommendations:
- Leverage Existing Women Groups to Drive Implementation of National Gender Policy on Agriculture: In 2019, Nigeria launched the National Gender Policy on Agriculture as informed by research by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM). The policy aims to promote the adoption of gender-sensitive and responsive approaches in the agricultural sector and ensure that men and women have equal access to and control of productive resources. The Gender Unit at FMARD must work closely with existing women’s groups and cooperatives to drive sensitization, awareness and public understanding of the National Gender Policy on agriculture. This effort will help highlight priority areas requiring capacity building to support policy implementation at all levels, thereby boosting women farmers’ participation in agricultural decision-making and improving business outcomes.
- Incorporate Succession Planning within the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development: An essential strategy for addressing continuity and succession within a system is the development of plans that support and strengthen the longevity of the existing women leaders while preparing the next generation to succeed in the inevitable retirement of senior leaders. The Human Resource department of FMARD should design and implement a succession plan that addresses the skills gap among female staff to ensure outgoing female policymakers are adequately replaced by the new generation of female officers in decision-making roles. This will ensure the sustainability of an inclusive system that imbibes the organization’s core values.
- Champion Mentorship and Recognition of Women Agriprenures: The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) should promote mentorship programs for women by women to bridge skill and orientation gaps. This can include capacity-building sessions for female smallholder farmers and agripreneurs on soft skills such as negotiation, conflict management, and leadership to prepare them for a better business environment. Also, platforms that recognize the achievements and contributions of women in commercial agriculture should be championed for a more inclusive and balanced system. An example is an annual Women in Agriculture conference that will showcase the achievements of women agripreneurs and change the narrative of women operating only in the less profitable sections of the food and agriculture.
- Advocate for a more Inclusive Extension Service Delivery: In Nigeria, agricultural extension services have been dominated by the Agricultural Development Programme (ADPs) since the mid-1970s, but the experiences of farmers are changing. Traditional extension services linked with production objectives and blanket recommendations can no longer meet farmers’ expectations. Therefore, private sector participation in funding and delivering extension services is necessary to transform the sector, especially seed companies. This can be achieved through last-mile delivery of inputs by the formal seed agents, which will lessen the burden on public services and encourage the growth of the private extension sector. On the other hand, partnerships with public universities and colleges of Agriculture to leverage expertise in mainstreaming gender into extension services will boost service delivery.
In conclusion, Nigeria’s agricultural landscape has promising trends, digital expertise, seed innovations, and youth engagement, but the transformation of the Nigerian food system demands concerted efforts from all stakeholders to create an inclusive ecosystem that empowers and recognizes the immense contribution of women farmers. Collaboration and synergies among women in agriculture by establishing networks and strong linkages in line with the aspiration of having women-owned multi-million-dollar agribusinesses will promote gender transformative approaches for agricultural interventions, as seen in the Zambia case study.
Ezechi, Program Analyst, Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Limited, Sahel Consult
 Spotlight: Opening Development Opportunities in Nigeria by Closing Gender Gaps: Agriculture, Enterprises, and Public Sector
Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.