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Gender strategy yields rewards in northern Nigeria

Our understanding of the constraints holding back Nigeria’s women farmers and entrepreneurs is improving – thanks to an ICARDA-managed wheat initiative working across sub-Saharan Africa. 

Enhancing women’s involvement in agricultural development generates positive impacts beyond the lives of individual women – benefits can be felt across entire communities and households. Sadly, gender inequality routinely limits the potential of rural women. In Nigeria, access to credit, land, and other inputs is 50 percent lower than men; women are rarely targeted by extension services; and because of pervading cultural norms they have limited personal freedom.    

Realizing the potential of rural women

A wheat initiative is challenging the marginal status of rural women in northern Nigeria, identifying structural gender inequities in wheat production systems and opportunities to raise women’s incomes and strengthen their food security. Some 12 percent of beneficiaries are women.

Part of a program working across 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to tackle the region’s growing dependence on imported wheat, the initiative is addressing inequitable access to inputs and services (information, training, and microcredit) and attempting to raise the awareness of key stakeholders such as farmer associations and seed companies on the potential role women could play in wheat production systems. 

A context-specific strategy

Combining the delivery of new innovations, capacity strengthening, and efforts to challenge existing gender norms, the initiative targeted wheat production and value-added products such as pastries and pasta. Value addition is often ignored by extension systems but important for many women, and over 80 women received training to enhance the palatability and longevity of their value-added products. In addition, some 2500 women received improved wheat seeds and other inputs such as threshers, harvesters, and planters.

The result: higher incomes, a sharp reduction in workloads, and stronger decision making power. The initiative also achieved reform at the institutional level – providing the experience that institutions need to properly integrate gender into their work so that other women can benefit in the future.

Lessons for scaling-out 

What can we learn from this approach – to inform similar efforts elsewhere? Assigning responsibility and involvement at all project levels was crucial, helping to overcome cultural barriers and enhance the gender sensitivities of agricultural institutions at multiple levels. Women-to-women capacity building was also key, enhancing women’s access to services, increasing the adoption of improved wheat production varieties, and raising production.

This research is supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

This article is based on an ICARDA Working Paper: ‘Gender Roles and Relations in the Wheat Production of Nigeria: Strengthening the Participation of Women.’ 

Author: Dina Najjar, Associate Social and Gender Scientist (ICARDA) 

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