Wednesday 18 May 2016

Women and food security in Nigeria

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the world’s 7.3 billion people, representing ratio 1 in 9, suffer from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight of the population of developing counties. Aside hunger and malnutrition, food insecurity equally results in a wide range of other problems like health, environmental degradation, and high rate of crime, etc.

With most of her people engaged in activities outside the agricultural sector, Nigeria is in danger of being engulfed in food crisis. To improve agriculture and food security is a herculean task for most African nations. Hence, their people easily become victims of food-related problems. The reasons for this lingering food crisis range from industrialization to crave for higher standard of living and mass ruralurban migration. Other key causative factors are non-availability of urban infrastructures and credit facilities for farmers as well as lack of empowerment for women farmers. The springing up of more industries to cater for the growing population of whitecollar job seekers affects provision of food for the people.
The lands hitherto used for agriculture are being sold to give way for these industries. And often, these lands contain trees – usually felled- needed to boost the oxygenation of the environment as well as production of both food and cash crops. Commonly tagged dirty and not a money- spinning occupation, farming becomes an abhorrence for most young people.
This is because it does not bring immediate financial returns on investment compared to other jobs such as banking and working in oil servicing firms. There is mass migration of young school leavers from the rural communities to the cities, leaving behind old and tired hands to engage in farming. And in most cases, lower farm yields result, which in turn affects supply of food. But by far the most important reason for food insecurity is the lack of incentives to women to engage in commercial agriculture. Women play a significant role in agriculture, the world over. About 70 percent of the agricultural workers, 80 percent of food producers, and 10 percent of those who process basic foodstuffs are women and they also undertake 60 to 90 percent of the rural marketing; thus making up more than twothirds of the workforce in agricultural production.
In West Africa, up to 80 percent of the labour force in all trades is female. Yet, the role of women in these activities, so important economically, has remained obscure for long because women seldom played any major roles in decision making processes of most polities. Women farmers face a lot of challenges, these include and not limited to lack of access to land and funding; limited access to new practices and technological advancements in farming; and less market opportunities, among others. In many regions of Africa, women have limited access to land compared to their male counterparts, and therefore, cannot practise large scale agriculture. Furthermore, women tend to face greater challenges when it comes to securing credit. They are generally less experienced with the ins and outs of borrowing from an institution, and without assistance and support they find it difficult to access much needed funding. To practise large scale farming, there is need for access to modern technological advancements.
The women folk do not have access to these as companies marketing these farm implements often target those that engage in large scale farming – who are often men. In addition, lack of market research and information limit women farmers to market opportunities. Women are confined to local markets, where prices are generally lower than in urban markets. Furthermore, women farmers are in need of transport and logistics, whose lack affects their ability to sell more of their farm produce in time. As daunting as these challenges are and to stem the tide of food insecurity in Nigeria, the various governments have to evolve several programmes that emphasise empowering and investing in women, specifically those in rural areas.
This will significantly increase productivity while reducing hunger and malnutrition. Through the provision of land, seedlings and fertilizers by government at all levels, the productivities of women farmers would be enhanced. In the same vein, financial institutions should make loan facilities accessible to female farmers by relaxing the criteria for accessing loans.
The aforementioned will rub off on women being recognized by modern farm implements producers and marketers, which will invariably lead to higher yields. Also, access to funds will enable the women farmers to be able to procure vehicles which will assist in logistics and prompt delivery of farm outputs to various markets both in the rural and the urban areas.
In all, to ensure food security in the country, government at all levels as well as corporate and financial establishments should commit large chunk of resources towards motivating women farmers and for the promotion and advancement of this crucial sector of the economy. Bakare is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja -Lagos.

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