Featured - In-depth - December 21, 2020

INDEPTH | Sasakawa: Mainstreaming gender in Nigeria’s rural livelihood


Members of the Maiganga women farmers’ group displaying various delicacies produced from their harvested crops                Photo: Ahmad Jibrin


Situated at the end of an eight-kilometer long access road off the busy Gombe – Yola highway in northeastern Nigeria, Maiganga is a quiet resettled mining community. On this bright Thursday morning, members of the Maiganga women farmers group were in high spirit, as they showcase various food delicacies produced with their own hands to a select group of journalists on a media tour to the community. The excursion was organized by the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA).

As part of Sasakawa’s network of women farmers across Nigeria, the Maiganga women – some of whom are still in their early 20s while others are way into their 50s – were beneficiaries of the innovative farming technologies introduced by the Nippon Foundation-funded nonprofit, which has transformed their crop production and management practices. The sound of their drums and melodies of their welcoming songs in Hausa captures the true state of the women farmers who seemed pleased for what had obviously been a bountiful farming season.

Amongst others, the Maiganga women cultivate soyabean, millet and guinea corn, a combination of which they process into various highly nutritional delicacies for the consumption of their families as well as for sale in the market as a source of livelihood. This is a paradigm shift brought about by Sasakawa. Previous farming practices meant farmers barely make any profits from their investment as they mostly dispose of all their crops almost immediately after harvest, at highly uncompetitive prices.

Since 2016, the annual SAA media field days take place simultaneously across the four Sasakawa focal countries in Sub Saharan Africa: Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda. While the media field days offer SAA the opportunity to showcase its work with smallholder farmers to the world, the tour affords the journalists the opportunity to acquire firsthand information on the nonprofit’s efforts to disseminate innovative agricultural technologies across their three core thematic areas of operation: crop productivity enhancement; postharvest and agro-processing as well as public-private partnership and market access.

The 2020 media field days was coming against the backdrop of the raging Covid-19 pandemic whose negative implications cut across all aspects of human endeavors including the agricultural value chain. “The media field days is meant to document lessons and feedbacks from our beneficiaries so as to enable us enhance our services to our clients. It helps us ascertain how our agricultural innovations and technologies are being utilized by farmers and the challenges emanating from the field as a result of the use of the technologies,” says Dr Abdulhamid Gambo, deputy country director of SAA in Nigeria.

SAA’s vision is the realization of a Sub Saharan Africa that is free from hunger and poverty through the sustainable production of nutritious food in an eco-friendly, market-oriented and socially viable system. This is being achieved by empowering smallholder farmers such as the Maiganga women farmers to sustainably increase productivity in response to market demand. Accordingly, the nonprofit is partnering stakeholders across public and private sectors to guarantee the delivery of extension advisory services and influence the transformation of agricultural production in Sub Saharan Africa.

Thus, SAA believes by strengthening the capacity of extension service delivery along the agricultural value chain as well strengthening viable Farmer-Based Organizations (FBOs), it would help smallholder farmers acquire the requisite knowledge and skills for increased and sustained productivity. This is necessary for the smallholder farmers to generate income and improve their lives and livelihoods.

Central to SAA’s work with smallholder farmers are women, youth and people with special needs, who are mostly marginalized in agricultural interventions. Through its targeted agricultural interventions, Sasakawa ensures the integration of these categories of people in its operations.

In Nigeria, Sasakawa is operating across 18 states under different partnerships including the three core Nippon Foundation-supported states of Kano, Jigawa and Gombe. Since it commenced its Nigeria operation in 1992, SAA has continuously leveraged the country’s far-reaching agricultural extension system, through the state-level Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs), to implement its value chain extension intervention programmes.

Prof Sani Miko, SAA’s country director in Nigeria said Sasakawa now considers gender, nutrition, youth, women in agriculture, as well as People With Disabilities (PWDs) as “special targets” in its value chain extension intervention programmes for smallholder Nigerian farmers.

“We try to increase productivity by sourcing proven technologies from research institutions and repackaging these technologies, without necessarily changing the concept, and then pushing them to the extension staff that will deliver these messages to the farmers. This year is very different, we have been challenged by a pandemic which has affected the manner all extension services will be delivered in the future. We are now trying to reach the same clients digitally, through the radio and social media,” he said.


Fifty-two-year old Maryam Kura, who leads the Kauyen Ada women farmers group, has been working as a rice farmer for now over twenty-five years. In 2019, she sponsored her pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia thanks to the profits she made from rice farming.  Photo: Adam Alqali

Mainstreaming gender

In view of the marginalization of women across the agricultural value chain, SAA’s work with smallholder farmers across Africa is now guided by deliberate policies aimed at bridging the gender gap in agriculture by ensuring women are given a level-playing field to effectively participate across the entire value chain, from production to processing, value addition to marketing. Consequently, Sasakawa now allocates 70% of its Theme 1 (crop productivity enhancement) resources to reaching farmers previously not served by extension advisory services, particularly women farmers.

It is thanks to this deliberate policy that the Maiganga women farmers are today delighted participants of the entire agric value chain. Similarly, in Kano state, Sasakawa is working with multiple women farmer groups such as the Kauyen Ada Women Rice Processors in Bagwai Local Government Area, who have also benefited from SAA’s trainings on various innovative technologies for increased and sustained productivity. This has subsequently boosted their yield with associated effect on their lives and livelihood.

Fifty-two-year old Maryam Kura, who leads the Kauyen Ada women farmers group, has been working as a rice farmer for now over twenty-five years. Maryam, who was encouraged to go into agriculture by her husband said during the initial stage of her farming carrier, she had to rent basins for her rice cultivation as well as relying on crude farming implements. Eventually, she began to acquire farm plots and is now even practicing mechanized agriculture. In a patriarchal society such as northern Nigeria’s, Maryam’s success could not have come without serious challenges.

“I had to battle with the society’s negative perception of women in agriculture. People kept asking me why I was engaging in agriculture as a woman, including my own children who were wondering why I had gone into farming. I had to sat them down and explain to them that there was wealth in agriculture and was eventually able to convince my two children as well as my son-in-law who are well educated to also go into agriculture,” said the mother of three who in 2019 personally sponsored her pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia (a key religious obligation among Muslims) from the profits she made from rice farming.

Maryam said SAA’s farming techniques were by far more innovative compared to their traditional agricultural practices. Consequently, she said women farmers such as herself were now economically empowered to support their families. For instance, Maryam said she was now fully sponsoring the education of her third and lastborn son, even as the father was still alive and capable of doing so himself. “I was getting 18 bags of rice on my six basin; this year, I produced 38 bags of rice from the same basin thanks to Sasakawa’s technologies,” she said.

A member of Maryam’s group, Aisha Garba, another rice farmer who is in her late fifties, concurs. She said Sasakawa had exposed them to various farming techniques, from effective planting techniques to better seed storage strategies. “We were taught how to plant crops in a way that will guarantee high yield as well as how to store our crops in a way that pests and diseases will not attack and destroy them, even in the next 10 years to come. We also benefited from Sasakawa’s Covid-19 support to farmers which include improved seed, fertilizer and agrochemicals.”

Prof Miko said Sasakawa had despite stiff resistance from some stakeholders successfully achieved gender integration in its work with smallholder farmers in Nigeria, which had created a level playing field for women in terms of their participation across SAA’s value chain extension services. “We had to put a rule that in any state where women are not forthcoming, we will move the resources meant for the women to another state where women are available to access the resources. And that was when we started seeing the women coming out to access the services.”

Sasakawa aligns its work with international conventions on gender such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, they have a strategy that ensures the three Technology Adoption Plots (TAPs) surrounding every Community Demonstration Plot (CDP) are owned by women. The CDP is SAA’s farmers’ demonstration field for introducing and disseminating technological innovations while TAPs are the farm plots of the farmers who adopted what they learnt from the CDPs.

Thanks to this strategy, the current ratio of women to men among the beneficiaries of Sasakawa’s interventions is 50:50. “50% is for women while the remaining 50% is for everyone (men and women). So, there could be a situation where 50% of the slots in a Farmer Learning Platform are automatically occupied by women while the other 50% are occupied by men, women, youths and PWDs. We are trying to ensure gender integration because women are very important players across the agricultural value chain, from production, to value-addition, and preparation of food for the table,” said Prof Miko.


Children of Maiganga community being served the nutritionally-rich gruel made from soyabean produced and processed by the community’s women farmers    Photo: Ahmad Jibrin


Integrating nutrition-sensitive agriculture

As well as gender, Sasakawa is now integrating nutrition-sensitive agriculture in its value chain extension services to smallholder farmers in Nigeria including the Maiganga women farmers of Gombe state. Regina Solo, director in charge of women in agriculture at the Gombe State Agricultural Development Project (ADP), said until now, when women farmers cultivated cash crops of high nutritional value such as soyabean, all they did was sell-off their produce in the market without allowing their families the opportunity to benefit from its huge nutritional value.

“Now, the women have been made to understand the nutritional value of the soyabean and are therefore processing it into various forms of delicacies which contribute to the nutrition, health and wellbeing of their families. For instance, they produce local delicacies such as gruel, daddawa, awara, milk and Tom Brown meal for their infant children. Tom brown, which is made from soyabean, millet and sorghum, is a balanced diet rich in protein and carbohydrate usually used to wean babies. So, by helping the women add value to the soyabean, Sasakawa is contributing to improved nutritional outcomes as well as providing an additional source of income to the women who are also selling these products,” said Solo.

Ruth Kennedy, a member of the Maiganga women farmers group says adding value to crops such as soyabean to feed their families comes with tremendous impact on the health and wellbeing of their children. “We are grateful to Sasakawa for teaching us how to better cultivate and process soyabean into various delicacies. For instance, we process it into gruel for our infant children; the gruel contains sufficient nutrients that allows the children grow into healthy adults. Our husbands and other family members also take the drink to nourish their body.”

Prof Miko states Sasakawa was now teaching the farmers to “eat what they produce. You cannot produce good food, sell it out and eat garbage. So, other than teaching farmers how to produce good food, we also teach them how to eat good food so as to acquire the necessary nutrients to stay healthy and continue to sustain the production. So, we are now introducing nutrition-sensitive agriculture to our clients.”


Grains produced by farmers from all parts of Gombe state including SAA-supported farmers at the Akko grains market  Photo: Ahmad Jibrin


Facilitating value addition, market linkages

In accordance with its Theme 2 (postharvest & agro-processing), Sasakawa supports farmers to add value to their primary produce and also diversify their range of income-generating activities, both on and off the farm. Moreover, in agreement with its Theme 3 (public-private partnership and market access), SAA is broadening the scope and impact of its agricultural extension services by strengthening smallholder farmers’ capacity for collective action; ensuring commercially-oriented farmer associations access and profitably engage in commercial markets.

Consequently, women farmer groups such as Maiganga’s are benefiting from agro-processing and value addition techniques, which makes it possible for the women to diversify their range of income-generating activities, both on and off the farm. Marilyn Ishaku, another member of the Maiganga women farmers group said, in an approach that was a clear departure from the previous practice, now after harvesting their cash crops such as soyabean, they divide their produce into three parts: one for feeding their families, the second for storage as seed, while the third is sold off in the market, after some value addition.

“Our Extension Agent help provide linkages with buyers who procure our grains in bulk. Now, our plan is to begin packaging our Tom Brown and other processed products and selling it off at competitive prices. This will also help us contribute towards  the development of healthy children and families in the country as well as improving our economic livelihoods towards eradicating poverty from Nigeria,” said Marilyn.

Musa Saleh, the chair of the apex farmers association in Gombe state comprising the Maiganga women farmers group, says Sasakawa trained the various farmer groups in Gombe to aggregate their crops during postharvest so as to sell them at competitive prices. “After we aggregate our produce, we then reach out to companies who would buy the produce at profitable prices. It is a win-win as we are happy and the buyers are also happy. This system is better than the previous practice; when we were selling off our produce individually which put us at the mercy of the buyers. As a result, we are now able to procure farming inputs such as seed, fertilizer, and chemicals collectively at the beginning of the farming season.”

Similarly, Danladi Yahaya, chair of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Bagwai Local Government Area of Kano state, believes SAA’s crop productivity enhancing technologies had led to significant improvement in agricultural yield. “With the exception of those who failed to rightly apply the techniques introduced by Sasakawa, farmers are seeing improved yield. For example, if a farmer was cultivating one hectare of land and harvesting 30 to 35 bags, if the same farmer applies their techniques on the same hectare of land, he will produce between 60 to 70 bags. Subsequently, the economic condition of our people has improved significantly with many farmers having built houses, acquired motorcycles while some even acquired cars. Hitherto we were mostly using bicycles.”

Yahaya however decries the fact that many farmers were not able to benefit from SAA’s aggregation facilities and market linkage services because they were always eager to harvest and dispose of their produce, due to poverty and competing demands. “This is due to poverty and competing demands which make these farmers eager to harvest and sell off their produce individually, with very little profits, against collectively storing their produce at the aggregation centers to dispose of the produce after the farming season, at a higher value.”

Consequently, one of the key challenges before SAA now is ensuring that the hundreds of smallholder farmers it is working with in Nigeria are able to benefit from the network of crops aggregation centres it’s currently building across its focal states in Nigeria. “We are designing an e-platform for gathering weekly market information for farmers who aggregate their produce. We are building aggregation centres where farmers can store their produce and where new technologies can be disseminated,” Miko had said.

The Nigerian smallholder farmers can only benefit from these aggregation centres if SAA is able to come up with innovative strategies that would ensure the farmers are able to aggregate their produce during the farming season so as to be able to dispose of them collectively and at competitive prices post the farming season.

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