Listening to people and getting a response is like physics
Mrs Salamatu Garba is the Executive Director of Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN), an NGO in Nigeria that coordinates the activities of smallholder farmers to help them practice sustainable agriculture. Agathe Diama in a freewheeling conversation spoke to her about the role of rural women in agriculture.
Q: What is your vision of sustainable agriculture?
Salamatu Garba: Sustainable agriculture and development is a holistic approach that addresses the welfare of the farmer and his importance to society. Society has made the farmer feel that his is a vocation that you take up when you are not important or when you fail in school! Sustainable agriculture is about giving the farmer a voice that will make him more relevant across the whole value chain, from production up to marketing and consumption. It also means putting in place processes that continue long after a project has withdrawn its support and about caring for the environment.
Q: What in your view are the most critical constraints to agricultural development in Africa?
Salamatu Garba: You can’t win a race running on one leg! Both legs must go together. Similarly, we must enhance agricultural technologies with simple hand operated machines, planters, and harvesters for women. You can’t let women continue with hard labor for three days and pay them half a dollar for that! Let them own their businesses, let them be engaged in uptake, let them link to markets.
Q: Tell us about some of WOFAN’s activities.
Salamatu Garba: Partnerships are very vital to our work. WOFAN is working with ICRISAT as a lead partner. We are linking with agricultural development agencies and research institutions. When we consolidate our skills, farmers too follow this practice. We are improving processing and adding value. Our women are packaging groundnut and involved in nutrition programs. Basically we see food security and nutrition as a package.
Groundnut has brought happiness in the family: the husband grows groundnut, WOFAN supports women in buying groundnut from the men to process it to extract groundnut oil. Everybody in Kano comes to WOFAN because they can buy unadulterated groundnut oil. If ICRISAT had not partnered with the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) to bring SAMNUT 23 and SAMNUT 24 varieties which give three times the value of oil we were getting before, we wouldn’t have been able to address current market needs.
In the past, men would harvest but not talk about it to their wives. Now that the men know their women will buy the groundnut produce, they inform their women a week ahead of harvest since they know that money will come through the women. Currently nearly 4020 women are engaged in groundnut oil extraction while only 999 men are producing the crop. How can the voices of 75% of the total target not be heard? Today the family eats more nutritious food, pays the children’s school fees, uses fodder for livestock, which when sold brings in a good income.
Q: Your views on crop-livestock system integration.
Salamatu Garba: It is perfect to have an integrated system for agriculture and livestock; imparting business skills are equally important. It is not just about increasing production. It is ridiculous to think of increasing agricultural production without factoring in wastage, which is the biggest problem in Africa. We are producing enough but we lose a very high percentage of it after harvest.
Q: What makes a good woman leader?
Salamatu Garba: To become a woman leader, one must have very big ears and a small mouth. You use your ears to listen to people; you let them come up with their solutions. It is very important to make people own the process. Being humble is another quality. Listening to people and getting a response is like physics: How the ball returns will depend on how you throw or hit it!
Q: Organizations working on behalf of rural women/farmers are often accused of ignoring their aspirations and needs. How does WOFAN ensure this does not happen?
Salamatu Garba: Group dynamics is very important in WOFAN. For instance, before we began with groundnut processing we did a lot of group interactions to give them the confidence to be independent and fearlessly express their problems. Then we stepped back and let the women take center stage. Our women farmers who were once timid and quiet now hold the microphone and tell the governor exactly what they want! This is also part of scaling-up agriculture.
About the author:
Agathe Diama, Regional Information Officer – West & Central Africa Program(WCA)