By Halima Oji
A Coalition of small-scale women farmers associations and groups under the platform of SWOFON an Initiative of ActionAid Nigeria converged in Kaduna and Bauchi states respectively for its North-West/North-East Regional Fora in their numbers representing various states in the two geopolitical zones to include: Kastina, Kano, Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, Adamawa, Gombe, Borno, Taraba and Bauchi states. The aim was to equip them with the relevant information; tools and resources to engage the Duty-bearers at all levels and get that which they are entitled.
The event kicked off in Kaduna with two days of activity lined up. Day one saw Ms. Constance Okeke, International Manager, Public Finance for Agriculture ActionAid International facilitating the session on Network and Coalition building and Azubike Nwokoye, Programme Advisor ActionAid Nigeria taking the participants through skills and strategies in Policy Advocacy. While the second day presented a one on one interactive session between the Rights holders and Duty bearers.
Amongst the government officials in attendance in Kaduna were Mrs Vasti Shamaki Head of Unit Horticulture Ministry Agriculture Kaduna state, Mr Vincent Ahamin, Bank of Agriculture and Mrs Esther A. Duniya, Divisional cooperative Officer Kaduna South.
Participants wasted no time in bringing to light the many issues and challenges abound to small-scale women farmers in Nigeria. Dije Saidu a participant from Kano expressed sadness in the difficult processes involved in getting a NAFDAC registration done. Lack of access to fertilizer, loans/high interest rate, markets were the other issues repeated by the farmers. Without mincing words they demanded that government must stop the discrimination against women and include them in all stages of policies and budgeting to have their interests represented.
Responding, Mr. Vincent Ahamin of Bank of Agriculture reassured the farmers of the Bank’s commitment and that there was no form of discrimination against women or the poor. While admitting that the interest rate at 12% and 14% is high, the women farmers can through the SWOFON platform liaison with the Central Bank of Nigeria to get it reduce to a single digit. He also encouraged that they take advantage of the bank’s Grow and Earn More (GEM) programme target at smallholder holder farmers.
Mrs Vasti Shamaki from the Ministry of Agriculture advised that farmers make use of organic fertilizer (manure) as it is 90% better than chemical fertilizer and produces more yields. That they need to understand that government is unable to provide enough fertilizers at the moment for all farmers and timely too.
In Bauchi state it was no different as the same issues and challenges were spotlighted. The participants from Borno and Adamawa lamented over the inability to access their farm lands due to the insurgency in many parts of the North East and urged the government to intensify its efforts in tackling the Boko Haram sect for good.
Duty bearers from Bauchi state include Ayuba T. Ishaya – Director Planning Research and Statistics Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources Bauchi state, Daniel I. Abraham – Assistant Director Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Aisha Muazu – Board Member ActionAid Nigeria and Charity Nyalanke – Deputy Director Women in Agriculture amongst others.
Mr Ishaya speaking, reassured the women farmers of government commitment to providing the necessary farming inputs, access to lands and other incentives. Also the government plans on buying directly from the farmers in the near future to ease markets challenges and transport cost.
Other government officials in Kaduna and Bauchi states commended ActionAid Nigeria for the laudable opportunity, encouraged the participants to make positive use of SWOFON platform and reach out to other women farmers to join in order to be a force to reckon with.
The National President of SWOFON, Sarah Yapwa while appreciating all in attendance, also encouraged the women farmers to go into all types of farming in order to earn more.
At the end of the fora, the women farmers having identified advocacy issues ; Who to Advocate to; Key Message; How and when; promised to start mobilizing and follow-up on government policies and promises. “together with one voice, we are stronger and can change things” remained the key message.
SWOFON is an ActionAid Nigeria initiative and has subsequently spread in 34 states. It currently accommodates over 500 women farmers cooperatives and an increasing number of 500, 000 members across the country.