Halima Njegbodi is a former president of Farmers Association of Nigeria and initiator of No Agric, No Deal, a non-governmental organisation, devoted to the promotion of agriculture and grassroots mobilisation. Njegbodi is also passionate about the role of women in agriculture. She speaks to Oluwatosin Omoniyi on her
Importance of women in agricultural development
According to Hajia as she is fondly called, in an African setting, women play an extremely important role mostly in household farming. Women in most rural areas work on the family farm.
Overall, women for both subsistence and cash-crop farming supply about 70% of agricultural labour. “So women are very important for household food and nutrition security, also for income generation, since they are engaged in the agrifood industry and food processing.
Women are responsible for processing cassava, maize and vegetables; they also handle the marketing at local level.
Women’s role not sufficiently acknowledged
In a sense, women’s role has gained recognition. In fact, they are active but are not encouraged. Federal government is not incorporating them the way they should be. Banks are also not giving loans because they are not too certain terms of repayment. But I understand that policy of theirs, we need to understand that it is people’s money that are involved in these banks.
From experience, mostly for rural women, there are areas where change is needed and it includes land, security and access to natural resources, credit, training and capacity strengthening, so that women can take leadership roles and participate in decision-making.
There is also the problem of investment to support the social and economic empowerment of women. On her NGO- ‘No Agriculture, No deal’ in West Africa that is supported by World Bank. She said the NGO is focused on Mango production.
Basically, the NGO, she said was established to work with existing farmers based on three major areas, Packaging, Processing and Preservation. The area of packing, she explained is most important because that is one of the major problem that hinders Nigeria from entering the International market. According to her, her NGO works with all the Embassies that have bilateral ties with Agricultural. She narrated that all they(Embassies) requested for was manpower before they could contribute, “unfortunately, we couldn’t find.
The Embassies also wanted land and government assurance to guarantee their investment aside work force. Unfortunately, we could not get government support upon all their media hyping on Agriculture. From the Minister of Agriculture, Committee leaders, Commissioners, and even the Senate on it, will you believe that no success with them. We became a nuisance to these International bodies that we want their partnership. The whole thing regarding Agriculture is a bundle of frustration.
We have foreign investors who want to come and invest in Agriculture but government is not encouraging especially if there is no personal gain in it for them. What people don’t understand is that we still have virgins lands in Nigeria and Nigeria has the best soil in Africa.
Frustrations According to Hajia, her frustration worsened when there is nobody to talk to. She said all the proposals she wrote to different ministries in charge of Agriculture never saw light of the day. “When you write to the Minister of Agriculture, your proposal disappears, you go one Minister, you cannot see them, you start working from one ministry to the other, they will tell you that ‘it is not my personal thing’
Eventually Hajia resolved to go back to working on her NGO focal points of providing counselling, training and advocacy for existing farms that are active. “I am working towards the 3Ps, processing, packaging and preservation, using existing farm products,” she said.
That also is with its challenges, she noted. She said that the big wigs in the country are buying all the lands now and converting them to estate or Mechanic ground where they spoil the soil with engine oils from vehicles and irons.
“So, if you are talking of food security, why are they allowing this. For instance now we are talking of the banana that is coming from the outside country is cheaper than the banana coming from Okeneto Abuja, it is well kept, even the bananas you see is not from here, it is foreign bananas. Tell me, are we progressing in our Agricultural products?” She asked.
Hajia made bold to say that the major reason Nigerian Agricultural system is not working is because the country Agricultural system has been placed from up to bottom. “And when we say from top to the bottom, it means it is not getting to the bottom, we are trying to make it now start from bottom to top, that is why we now sign the bill (Agricultural bill).
Impact on women
Things are extremely difficult for women farmers. Some of these women hardly survive, a woman who have hectares of cassava but have no means of harvesting them. She doesn’t have means of processing them, sometimes they are at lost, they can’t even feed themselves.
How do I tax them to give me money? Sometimes when you visit these women, their condition is so pathetic that I am at a lost as to how to approach them, seeing that the woman farmer cannot eat properly. In those days when a woman is looking for whom to marry, they prefer to marry somebody whose father or mother has farm, they prefer somebody who has farm who can feed their children.
The women farmers are not empowered and equipped at all, and that is why we have most of them as peasant farmers at the rural level. If only that the Federal Government can only be truthful to their words, by giving a serious boost to Agriculture, it can accommodate about 95% of Nigerians.
Specific challenges for women
The Agric healthcare system is terrible in Nigeria, she pointed out. Halima revealed that there is no quick access to qualitative healthcare facilities and no early detection of any ailment for these women. She stated that the women are too exposed to chemicals and direct contacts with fertilizers usage thereby causing nail breakages and damages for them. In addition to their pains, Halima added that, for some of these women, their husbands are not supportive enough.
Category of women into farming
Hajia Halima revealed that majority of the women farmers are disabled, victims of some ailments or the other, and victims of conflicts or unforeseen circumstances of life. “These categories of women come in direct contacts with our foods, cabbage and salad products. In that regard, I expected government support to help elevate these women to a healthy standard that there will be harm or irritation that they come in contacts with our edibles,” she explained.
The type of farming in Nigeria
Hajia affirmed that Nigeria is not doing farming yet but are doing what is known as ‘gathering of food production,’ compared to other part of the world that she has traveled to. “That is why some of these products are contaminated. If we are talking about commercial farming and if we are advocating for it, you will see mechanics, see computers on the farm, unfortunately, we don’t have such in this country.
We have all the capability that it takes, we have tried our best, companies are not opening their doors to retrieve those people,” she said. She was quick to quip that not that the banks are not giving loans but the point is that, they tried to understand the perspective of the bank’s policy. According to her, the money in the banks belongs to some people who deposited their money for investment and expected return.
“The federal government gave me a letter to train Nigerian women farmers on loan surveillance when I gathered all these women, it was without funding. And when I gathered them, they are shouting for loan, you placed the whole thing on the table and after looking at the bottom line of all the loans they are crying for, you will see it is not possible.
If I give you this loan I want it within a shortest time or period where you pay me back my money but for Agriculture, it is not like that, as such, the clamour of them looking for loan now is getting down gradually. So, we begin to look inward more, we get this women into closer group, what do you to do, what can you provide, let’s bring out small money and they are moving gradually.
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