Press For Progress: Breaking The Grass Ceiling

 

Last week was International Women’s Day. As usual, events were held to celebrate women and discuss how far we’ve come and what needs to be improved on. My country-Nigeria was no exception.

While a lot of promises were made (as expected), the Central Bank of Nigeria’s promise to improve women’s access to formal financial services especially credit through various intervention programmes caught my attention.

The importance of this statement is hinged on the fact that 21.4 million females, that is 42.7 percent of the total female population in Nigeria are financially excluded. While many women in Nigeria require access to credit, I’m more concerned with the financial exclusion of women farmers in Nigeria.   

Women Left Behind: The Financial Exclusion of Women In Agriculture

 

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Across the globe, women make up a large part of agricultural labor: In 2015, women in Sub-Saharan Africa represented 40 percent of the agricultural labor force. Specifically, in Nigeria, rural women take the lead in agricultural activities, making up to for 70 percent of the country’s farming population.

Due to the crucial role women play in the agricultural sector, one would expect access to financial services would not be a problem for women. However, this is not the case. The absence of collateral and credit history restrict rural women farmers from accessing financial services, including bank loans. Consequently, rural women farmers are unable to participate in farming activities that have the potential to create wealth for them and drag them out of poverty.

Statistics state that less than one-third of loans in Nigeria are awarded to women. This isn’t surprising as the complex bank administrative processes, unsuitable loan sizes and credit rates and biased lending practices by financial institutions deter rural women farmers from applying for formal loans.

It is also important to note that financial institutions discriminate against rural women, consider them “illiterate” or inexperienced and therefore less attractive clients. This is despite the fact that women pay back loans.

Now, if mainstream banks ignore rural women farmers, one would assume government micro-credit schemes would embrace them.  However, the story is still the same. While there are structures in place to provide micro-credit to women, access remains low.

For instance, data from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, states that Nigerian women farmers receive less than 10% of the credit offered to small-scale farmers. Also, the National Bureau of Statistics states that out of about 29,000 persons granted micro-credit by The National Poverty Eradication Programme in 2007, 20,098 men accessed loans compared to 8,550 women. It was also observed that those who accessed the loans weren’t even poor!

Asides finance, access to land is another factor that has female-led “agriculture to be described as “underperforming”.

The 2012 ‘Gender in Nigeria’ report by the British Council, states that women own 4% of land in the North-East, and just over 10% in the South-East and South-South, less than 10% of Nigerian women own land

Therefore, the lack of land ownership significantly reduces the chances for women’s access to financing because of the need for collateral.  With no access to finance and land, rural women farmers continue to struggle with low crop yields,  produce sold at a lower price and, ultimately, continued poverty.

Breaking The Grass Ceiling 

Inequalities between men and women farmers in their access to productive resources, services and opportunities are one of the causes of underperformance in the agriculture sector and contribute to deficiencies in food and nutrition security, economic growth and overall development.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United States, gender-equal access to agricultural resources could increase the average woman farmer’s crop yields by 20-30 percent.  

Therefore, while we press for progress in boardrooms, it is important we include rural women farmers in our discussions and call for the elimination of practices that deprive women of access to land and other resources. 

To free rural women from poverty and empower them, what we require is less money making schemes masked as “women empowerment programs”, more agricultural policies that consider gender differences and equal access to resources.

In the words of Professor Ruth Oniang’o, founder, and leader of the Rural Outreach Programme, editor-in-chief of the Africa Journal of Food, Nutrition and Development, “With the right support, women can rid Africa of hunger, malnutrition and poverty“.

Do rural women farmers in your country have access to finance? Let me know in the comment section.

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