Food security in Nigeria impossible without women – Ogbeh, Synergos Institute

In a bid to emphasise the role of women in attaining food security and the potentials of the agricultural value chain in Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Synergos Institute and Technoserve recently convened a stakeholders’ dialogue in Abuja between November 15 and 16.

The event tagged, “2017 Nigerian Women In Agribusiness Stakeholders’ Dialogue” focused on the challenges of women, who were identified as constituting over half of the national population and more than 70 per cent of agricultural workers in the country.

The event attracted farmers, agro-processors, policy makers, development specialists, concerned participants, Synergos founder, Peggy Dulany Rockefeller, and Vice President for Programs, Surita Sandosham.

The participants noted that women were responsible for above 50 per cent of production in the sector, but sadly had barely 20 per cent access to the critical inputs required to thrive. The challenges of women in the sector include lack of access to improved seedlings, finance, farm lands, extension services and other essential agricultural resources.

The case for a genuine reconsideration of the fortunes of agriculture in Nigeria – alongside improving the lot of women as its critical operatives, who are largely toiling in little return smallholder undertakings – is evident from recent disaggregated countrywide Gross Domestic Product, GDP figures.

According to the figures, while most sectors of the economy experienced negative growth in 2016, agriculture drew positive growth, nudging from 3.09 per cent in Quarter 1, to 4.53 per cent in Quarter 2, and 4.54 per cent in Quarter 3.

Still, agriculture in Nigeria fundamentally persists on a subsistence and smallholder level, barely able to provide for the country’s huge population with the population growth rate spiralling at twice the pace of the resources available to provide for it.

This contemplation principally framed the Synergos initiative, alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make a difference within the Nigerian agricultural space by serving as a catalyst for collaboration among critical stakeholders.

The state of affairs perhaps made the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, observe at the event that, “nothing is more important than food.”

“Growing our own food, processing what we produce, becoming competitive in export markets is how we can create jobs for our teeming population and ensure both national and regional security. And that cannot happen without the full and optimal participation of women”, Mr. Ogbeh said.

Mr. Ogbeh also affirmed the role of women in sustainable agricultural practice and scalable agribusiness, which he added has necessitated the call for a Gender Action Plan to tackle inherent deficiencies.

“By addressing the gender gap in access to productive resources, Nigeria can be expected to witness improved production and productivity in the sector and by extension improved economic growth.

“Women will get commensurate compensation for their effort(s) in the sector that will lead to poverty reduction and improved living standards, household and national food and nutrition security, reduction in under-5 malnutrition, improved education for the next generation,” the minister said.

The focus on women in the Nigerian agricultural space draws insight from what has been identified as a “triple burden” of having to combine farming activities with unpaid care work.

This is also in addition to community engagement and other non-agricultural economic activities, carried out to ensure the stability of the family and household. This picture is further complicated by the notable absence of women in decision-making across many levels.

In working to support agriculture in Nigeria in the past three years, importantly through gender and nutrition-sensitive approaches to farming, Synergos, a global non-profit organisation has been highly committed. Its commitment spans solving the complex problems of poverty through the creation and facilitation of collaborative partnerships, the offering of systems thinking approaches to issues, while also bridging leadership gaps.

The Synergos value proposition has evolved a State Partnership on Agriculture (SPA) programme, enabling the transformation of Nigerian agriculture from a predominantly subsistent form to the business of agriculture.

This has led to the SPA becoming a strategic convener of skills and efforts, with present missions in Kogi, Benue and Kaduna states, which are pilots to be scaled up across the country. Synergos equally provides support to the office of the Minister of Agriculture to ensure effectiveness in the delivery of policy and strategy on the mandate of the ministry.

The project has also engaged in policy intervention and support, creating market linkages, driving agricultural innovation, and capacity building. Synergos has carried out crucial market intelligence studies on crops such as rice, cassava, ginger and potato in its three pilot states.

More so, the organisation has conducted studies on women’s participation in the ginger and maize value chains in Kaduna and Kogi states. It also focuses on women’s participation in the cassava and rice value chains in Benue State, whilst producing agriculture economic baseline reports in the three states.

A major innovation advancing from the work of Synergos in Nigeria has been the development of a cassava peel-to-livestock feed prototype. This evolved from a collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which has the potentials of playing a major role in resolving much of the bloody conflicts associated with the conflicts between farmers and pastoralists.

In this creative repurposing of cassava peels, Nigeria, being the largest producer of the crop in the world, now has the capacity to generate and covert the peels from this root crop, which is traditionally wasted in the act of processing. Women, who are customary processors of this crop, whose peels can be converted to livestock feed that would be available to ruminant herds are presented with newer income opportunities.

At the core of the dialogue was a workshop on the proposed National Gender Action Plan (GAP) for women in agriculture, drafted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the facilitation of Synergos. This policy framework aims to outline concrete programmes and actions required for maximising the potentials of as many women farmers as possible.

It also seeks to address sectoral gaps, including the challenge of tracking gender results (the collation, storage and dissemination of gender disaggregated data), and concerns around value chain upgrades and the difficulty of the access to credit for agriculture by women.

The Plan hinges on three basic pillars.

The pillars of the Gender Action Plan comprise value chain upgrade, consisting the transferring of skills and knowledge required for improved crop yields and market access, as well as diversification in crop production; the hosting of roundtables on value chain upgrade for women farmers; promotion of partnerships/interfaces between identified companies and women farmers’ cooperatives; insights into packaging of locally produced goods to meet with regulatory standards; and organisation of financial literacy and entrepreneurship training for women farmers, etc.

On the level of food security, the Plan targets how more women farmers can be supported to improve food production and consumption, drawing on the national Food Security and Nutrition Policy. It also focuses on the holding of policy dialogues with the Office of the Vice President to synergise on improving credit access for women farmers; the engagement of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN on modalities for reaching more women farmers through ongoing micro credit schemes; and technological training.

In terms of the third pillar of GAP on sectoral governance, this deals with systems, institutions and decision-making processes within the sector and how women’s ‘voices’ and participation could be more effectively integrated within them. It also focuses on how to garner gender sensitive and desegregated data to enhance policy targets, particularly as these affect women.

Deliberations on the Gender Action Plan and its revolutionary possibilities in leveraging Nigerian women farmers towards innovative and sustainable practices was at the heart of the Synergos-enabled dialogue, the outcomes of which would feed into the final National Gender Action Plan on agriculture to be publicly unveiled by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture soon.

As pace-setter for the foregoing, and leading to the stakeholder dialogue on Agriculture on Tuesday November 14, a “Diversity Dialogue”, held which sought to drive at a truly inclusive economy for Nigeria through the participation of youth in agriculture.

Held at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Abuja, a thread linking this and the subsequent “Women in Agribusiness Stakeholders Dialogue” speaks to the unique methodology of Synergos Institute in its work. It is about facilitating dialogues and creating key linkages among stakeholders in a manner that kick-starts and deepens collaboration, in tandem with the co-creation of value for important work.

The event had in attendance, a plethora of actors in the public and private sectors – including the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection, Maryam Uwais; UN Women Advisor, Bisi Fayemi; local and international staff of Synergos, including the head of Technoserve in Nigeria, Larry Umunna.

The dialogue focused on how Nigeria can be more responsive to and harness its diversity for greater economic goals particularly within the framework of the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). It was basically about turning diversity into an advantage, and a progressive economic tool.

This was put in perspective by the Synergos Country Director in Nigeria, Adewale Ajadi, who foregrounded the notion.

“We live in a time in which diversity defines excellence”, he said noting that diversity is one of the paradoxes of the present era.

He said that the issues at stake pertain to how diversity needs to combine effectively such that, ”when we interact, we become more than the sum of our individual parts without losing all our unique gifts and perspectives.”

Mr. Ajadi anchored the 21st century diversity on the metaphor of Fela’s Afrobeat music, which brings together, ”a funky groove of different sounds and instrumentation, each pursuing tonal excellence, whilst speaking in authentic idioms, and yet all contributing to one grand coherent narrative.”

”As such, the challenge is how to work together around diversity in a manner that moves Nigerian agriculture forward. It is a question of how to we use diversity with elegant simplicity in a manner that transforms it from a burden into an advantage”, he said.

At the event, Synergos founder, Peggy Dulany, highlighted how the building of trust is essential to managing difference. She illustrated this with how the successful trust-building activity of the organisation among ”mutually suspicious stakeholders in India,” was crucial to enacting change in malnutrition in the country.

The diversity dialogue, which featured presentations by a Professor Ochefu on creative economies and archaeological history, and by the Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Garba Abari, also outlined issues such as the necessity of educating more people, changing mindsets, enabling thought leadership and better access to land for women and young people. They noted that these were salient ways of broadening the base of inclusion and embracing diversity within the Nigerian agricultural space.

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