Women farmers' voices from Nigeria :: 2011. 10. 23. 17:43

 I’ve just come back from the 1st Pan-Africa Non-State Actors Policy Dialogue Meeting on the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in Nigeria. It was an incredible meeting which brought together what you would think a seemingly unlikely group of people – those at the bottom of the economic ladder and those at the uppermost level of policy-making – to discuss the challenges facing African agriculture and the way forward.

 (For those who are not familiar with CAADP, it is a process led by African governments to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through agriculture-led development.)

 “Policy makers have a habit of leaving straight after opening ceremonies of such meetings. How could they relate with the real problems facing the rural people like us?” – Adu Yarima Charles, Association of Small-Scale Agro-Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN)

This legitimate question hit home with everyone in the meeting room and shaped the way the smallholder farmers, pastoralists, youth, private sector, research institutes, governments and donors interacted with each other throughout the three day meeting. The overwhelming consensus was that smallholder farmers can no longer remain invisible to policymakers.

Women smallholders are often invisible to policymakers. © Youjin Brigitte Chung

What amazed me the most was how passionate the women smallholder farmers and pastoralists were about bringing transformative changes to African agriculture and their strong voice calling upon governments to commit to the process. Once sensitized with national, regional and continental policy developments and given equal access to political representation and decision-making, women farmers are more than capable of bringing about positive social change.  Not only do they begin to recognise the value of their voice, but they also realise the significance of citizen-driven change and collective action. As one women smallholder farmer put it in crude words,  “If you don’t it right, you know we will remove you!”

One of the greatest outcomes of this meeting was that governments and donors alike acknowledged and confirmed the pivotal role of Non State Actors (NSAs, which include farmers/producers, consumers, private sector, women’s groups, NGOs, research institutions and etc) in working alongside governments to implement the CAADP agenda.

 “I believe NSAs play an active role in CAADP’s implementation. ECOWAS will support the outcomes of this very important meeting and complement ECOWAS’ agricultural policy.”Mr Ernest Aubee, Principal Programme Officer and Head of Agriculture of the Economic Community of West African States 

“Engagement of NSAs is pursued as an important target for the African Union Commission (AUC). More assertive NSAs are challenging both the AUC and development partners for greater voice and representation in CAADP-related fora.  With shared responsibility and increased visibility, NSAs have a significant role in supporting African governments’ shared goal of achieving agricultural development.” – Dr Janet Edeme, Acting Head of Rural Economy Division of the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission

These statements, however, cannot remain on paper only. As NSAs strive to work alongside governments, constructively challenging them – governments themselves need to recognise NSAs as equal and mutually accountable partners on the road to CAADP and to sustainable development at large.