The World Farmers’ Organisation describes women as the backbone of the development of rural and national economies comprising 43 per cent of the world’s agricultural labour force.
The organisation notes that in Africa, 80 per cent of agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly rural women.
“Women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, but do not have access and control over all land and productive resources,’’ the organisation observed.
But experts said that in spite of these important roles women play, rural women in Africa suffer from illiteracy and they are the most visible face of poverty.
According to them, there should be more gender policies and services designed towards encouraging women farmers to boost their productivity, especially in agriculture.
In his opinion, Head, Department of Agronomy, University of Ilorin, Dr Oluyemisi Fawole, said that developing such policies would enhance agricultural productivity and profitability that would guarantee food security and reduce poverty.
He observed that in spite of the roles of women and their contributions to the agricultural sector, they were confronted with socio-economic constraints that limit their productivity.
“These constraints include limited access to the essential elements of farming, resources and credit, information and technology, education and training, among others.
“Existing evidence from small-scale studies across Africa documents the numerous disadvantages that women face in accessing the same resources, training, markets and opportunities,’’ she said.
Fawole, however, solicited the application of education and gender responsive research to tackle `the barriers’ that hold back the productivity of women farmers to enhance gender equality and usher in a broader economic growth.
“Education will make women more equipped, skilled and able to compete with men to take advantage of the better income-earning opportunities.
“To increase the productivity of female farmers, gender responsive research that goes beyond the farming system and examines the entire food value chain is required,’’ Fawole insisted.
Similarly, Prof. Abdul Ganiyu Ambali, the Vice-Chancellor, University of Ilorin, said that the African agricultural sector must increase its responsiveness to the needs and contributions of women for effectiveness and sustainability.
He explained that cultivation of high potential African women scientists would help in addressing urgent needs of small holder farmers.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Kolawole Omotosho, an agriculturalist, said that youths and women should be encouraged to participate in farming.
According to Omotosho, exportation, loan facilities and value chain have to be improved to favour women and youth participation in the profession.
“The government must endeavour to sensitise farmers by strengthening the faulty agricultural structures on ground.
“This, in turn, has the ability to encourage the youth to get more involved in agriculture, the government also has to look into the area of reducing interest rate to five per cent on agriculture loans.
“And if the Bank of Agriculture should come out with what we have concluded on the five per cent interest rate, this is another area that would encourage the youth,’’ he said.
In its bid to encourage women participation in agriculture, Seed Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria (SEEDAN) says it will engage 10,000 women Rice Seed Up-Scaling Project.
Mr Richard Olafare, President of the association said that 8,000 youths would also be engaged in the scaling project.
According to him, the number of women and youths represents 50 per cent and 40 per cent of the farmers that will participate in the project.
The project is an initiative of the West Africa Seed Programme with the support of the ECOWAS Rice Offensive Programme inaugurated in 2014.
Olafare explained that other objectives of the programme included targeting the production of 60,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice for Nigeria by December 2017, using 1,200 certified seeds.
He explained further that the project would be implemented between March and December in Kano, Niger, Kebbi, Zamfara, Benue, Ekiti and Ebonyi as pilot states.
“The project will put about 20,000 hectares of farmland to improved seed production in the seven states that have been selected.
“`More than 20,000 farmers, 50 per cent of whom are women and 40 per cent youths, will receive access to quality seeds under the two-year programme,’’ he said.
Apart from this programme, Dr Ahmed Zubairu, Chairman of the Goats Distribution Committee, Jigawa, said that the state government had empowered 220 women with 660 goats in Dutse Local Government Area of the state.
He said that the goats were distributed to beneficiaries in the 11 wards of the local government under the Goat Rearing and Breeding Loan Scheme introduced to empower women in the state.
He said that the beneficiaries would pay back the revolving loan in 18 months, noting that the women were given two she-goats and one he-goat to rear.
“The government decided to give the women goats because of its economic values. This is because both the goats’ meat and skin are useful,’’ he said.
In addition to such initiatives, experts call for the adoption of more pragmatic measures that will facilitate friendly environment capable of encouraging women to engage in agriculture for the purpose of fighting hunger and poverty.