The odds against them

Written by Hannah Ojo

Women professionals relive bitter-sweet experiences in farming

When Damilola Titilola dumped the wig and black gown for life in a pigpen as a farmer in the animal husbandry sector, she never anticipated the length to which her ingenuity would be tested. A Law graduate from the University of Bedfordshire, UK, she went into livestock farming in 2015 starting with commercial sales. Operating in Nigeria’s agriculture sector is like walking on a landmine filled with banana peels. For women, it would take an uncommon nerve and temerity to survive the terrain.

“People see that you are a young lady and they feel they can exploit you”, the 26-year-old lady told The Nation. Having to deal with workers older than her age and some of them male; Damilola whose Tadneous Farm rears livestock, including cows, cattle, goats and other domestic animals, has had to deal with the challenge of getting committed workers on her farm site located in Akinyele Local Government Area in Ibadan, West Africa’s biggest city. She also contends with the challenge of poor infrastructure as roads leading to the farm are in bad shape.

26 year old Damilola, a barrister stands by the door of her livestock farm in Akinyele, Ibadan. Her dream is to expand into an agritourist centre

“Transporting feeds to the farm is very stressful and when there is fuel scarcity, the cost of transportation doubles. Again, there is the issue with government policies which most times are largely inconsistent,” she uttered.
 As a young girl, Damilola confessed to being fascinated with the idea of owning a cattle ranch. Now that her dream is nearing reality, she has had to make personal sacrifice in the pursuit of her vision. Called to the Nigerian Bar in 2014, she worked for a year to gather capital. With the money garnered from her savings and support from family and friends, she launched fully last year, going beyond dealing in the commercialization of livestock to setting up a ranch where these animals are reared.

Her typical day starts at dawn as she heads to the farm by 7: 30 am to tend to the animals. “I start with cleaning the pig pens and feeding the animals. I don’t leave my workers alone to do the work because most times, I am not satisfied with what they do, so I have to dive in myself”. Her dream in the future is to expand Tadneous into an agritourist farm, where young Nigerians can be encouraged to see a future in animal husbandry that stretches beyond a boring routine and dirty works. She aims this vision comes into fruition in the next five years.

Aside working on the farm, Damilola shares her time with charity work in the Ibadan environs. One major lesson she always harps on, to interested persons is the fact that animal husbandry requires patience as the animals would need to be nurtured before profit starts yielding. “If you have a dream, just go through with it. It could be challenging but nothing good comes easy. I thought I would need a lot of money to start but N2m can set up something”, she intoned.
 Asked if she is considering accessing loan to expand her business, she said: “I made up my mind I was not going to take any loan yet. But from what I have heard from other friends, access to loan can be quite difficult”.

About 75 percent of women account for the farming population in Nigeria, according to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. A larger percentage of these women often have to contend with socio-economic factors such as low income and access to infrastructure.

Post-harvest Losses and the Courage to Start Again

Chitola Roberts-Agbaje represents the face of Nigerian women farmers who have had to rise from the burden orchestrated by postharvest losses. She converted her 14 acres plantain field to a mushroom farm after suffering a post-harvest loss estimated at N420, 000. In 2017, she watched dejectedly as harvested plantains rot away after a driver failed to show up because the vehicle broke down. A motor cycle could not be arranged owing to the bad condition of the road leading to her Ayepe, Ogun state farm location.

An agropreneur and advocate, Agbaje veered off from a background in PR/Communications after reading about the plight of rural women farmers. Setting up the Women in Agriculture and Sustainability Initiative, she set out to empower women farmers by organizing trainings and trade fairs for rural women involved in farming. Now the founder of the Mushroom Development Foundation in Nigeria, she is also involved in teaching rural women on the best techniques for mushroom farming. The NGO is working with the Mushroom Development Foundation in India by partnering on the latest method of growing mushroom, especially as the Nigerian climate is suitable for mushroom cultivation.
 “When it rains, these women go to farm but during the dry season, they go into mushroom farming and they are able to make money to better themselves”, she said.

Agbaje believes one vital way of empowering women in agriculture is to create a value chain by curbing post-harvest losses.
 “These are some of the things I think government should look into. Post-harvest losses is still very much of a problem. if we don’t curb it, it would be difficult to do sustainable farming”. Agbaje believes things are looking up for the Nigerian agriculture sector, as women are acquiring farm lands and government is working on credit facilitates for farmers. However, she is quick to point out the bottlenecks experienced with regulatory agencies as a factor working against the value chain for female agropreneurs.

“There is no clear-cut regulation for agriculture, what you find is a blanket regulation. The requirement I will need to set up a pure water factory would not be the same to set up a vegetable processing plant but NAFDAC’s regulatory requirements makes it difficult for small scale businesses to thrive, hence the problem of post-harvest losses”, Agbaje stated.

About 50 per cent of farmers’ labour on food supply is abruptly devoured by losses largely arising from poor storage infrastructure, transportation and in some cases, methodologies of harvesting.

Cries of rural women farmers

With Nigeria’s population projected to be the third biggest in the world by 2050, the possibility of meeting the growing food security needs of the populace appears blurry. Out of 79 million hectares of arable land, only 32 million (i.e., 46 per cent) is under cultivation. Another sad reality lamented by agricultural researchers is that Nigeria also has less than 10 per cent of its arable land under irrigation. Small-scale holder farmers form over 75 per cent and these smallholder farmers hold less than two hectares of land per household.

Women farmers who account 75 per cent of the workforce make up the least percentage of people economically active in agriculture. In Idofa, a sleepy community in Imeko- Afon local government Area, Ogun West, women farmers are practically feeding from hand to mouth, as they battle with crude methods of farming.

Known mainly for growing cassava, female farmers in the community are forced to work with their bare hands as a constituency project which ought to see to the construction of a cassava processing plant with machine installation, has not seen the light of the day. Executed by the ministry of Women Affairs, the project with a budgeted amount of N25,000,000 lies in a state of abandonment.

“Our women use palms to smoke cassava. Our backs are aching, and the harvest is small compared to the effort we put in”, Alice Aremu, the woman leader of Idofa community lamented to The Nation.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, agriculture is underperforming because half of its farmers — women — do not have equal access to the resources and opportunities they need to be more productive. Also, access to good quality farmland, a pervasive problem for smallholder farmers in Nigeria is a challenge particularly felt by female farmers.

In an integrated household survey on Agriculture, conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2016, data on land tenure arrangements for households engaged in farming activities revealed that men are more favoured to own land for agricultural purposes. Yet, the State of Food and Agriculture 2010–2011, reports that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent. This in turn could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent, thus reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12–17 percent.
 Closing the gender gap in agriculture is a win for the agricultural sector and the Nigerian society at large.

This story was made possible with support from Code for Nigeria via the Naija Data Ladies programme


Originally published at thenationonlineng.net on March 18, 2018.