Engaging women, girls in tackling hunger



Women farmers are the core of Nigeria’s agriculture, yet they have been entrenched in a vicious cycle of poverty, but on this occasion of International Women’s Day, stakeholders have called for their empowerment. JOHN OBA, reports.

Challenges

It is a common understanding that the world cannot be rid of hunger without the active contribution of women farmers across the world. Experts have raised concern that the world food system face unprecedented array of challenges, coupled with global population growth that further put pressure on the need for food supply.

The economic downturn, environmental and social concerns, unstable  oil prices, market insecurity, insurgency, policy mismatch, natural resource depletion and climate change among many others have compounded the problem of hunger across the globe.

In all these, Nigeria is not an exception, more alarming about Nigeria is the fact that the very set of people (farmers) that produce the bulk of food supplies are among the poorest in the world.

But as the world marks the International Women’s Day, stakeholders have further draw attention to the role of women in agricultural production in Nigeria.

Various researches conducted on the contribution of women to agricultural development in the country reveals that women contributed as high as 70% of the total farm task performed. 

Yet, lack of investment, empowerment and policy inclusion have entrenched the women in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Stakeholders position

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a message to commemorate the international women’s day, said with women faced with these challenges, it is more important than ever that the agriculture sector perform to its full capacity, while also becoming more efficient, inclusive and sustainable. 

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“FAO recognizes that in order to achieve this, we must address the persisting inequalities that affect the underperformance of agriculture in many countries. We need to work with and empower rural women, men, girls and boys,” it stated.

The World Food Programme (WFP) in a statement signed by Communication Officer, Kelechi Onyemaobi, in Abuja, said putting women and girls in front and centre in policy decisions and in programmes to tackle hunger and poverty is vital for reaching the goal of a Zero Hunger world by 2030. 

“Reducing inequalities and removing barriers that exclude women from influencing development in all sectors advances food security.

“This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day – think equal, build smart, innovate for change – resonates with WFP’s gender-transformative approach: working to give everyone lives of dignity, choice and opportunities. For example, our integrated programmes using cash transfers contribute to reducing gender-based violence, strengthening women’s decision-making and increasing women’s leadership.

“International Women’s Day reminds us about the immense and valuable contribution women make towards a more peaceful, prosperous and well-fed world,” said WFP Executive Director, David Beasley. “All around the globe, WFP programmes help empower women so they can have more opportunities to not just improve their lives, but those of their families, communities and nations,” the statement said.

She said the milling machines project implemented by WFP in Borno state, demonstrates how working with women and girls contributes towards food and nutrition security in Nigeria. 

Adding that under the programme, 5,000 displaced families in Borno received 766 milling machines from WFP to ease problems associated with processing grains.

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Similarly, WFP Representative in Nigeria, Myrta Kaulard, said gender continues to be a critical component of WFP’s work.

She said, “By processing grains such as sorghum and millet for others as well as for their own food needs, the families generate some income to maintain the milling machines. The milling machines also save time and energy for the users, especially for vulnerable women and girls who face a lot of difficulties in accessing milling services in the conflict-affected communities.

“WFP is constantly challenging the status quo and working to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment through its programmes. School feeding programmes have demonstrated an increase in nutrition and education among girl students and contributed to a decrease in teen pregnancy and child marriage. Our Food for Assets projects have empowered women who now are able to work in their communities, feed their families, sell their produce and contribute towards the development of themselves and their families.”

Tax Reduction 

Meanwhile, ActionAid Nigeria has called on the federal government to reduce unfair tax burdens on women; remove gender bias and discrimination in tax policies; increase allocation of tax revenues for gender responsive social services and ensure that tax and fiscal policies recognise and serve to represent, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work.

The Country Director, Mrs Ene Obi, in Abuja decried exploitations by the big corporations, stressing that the tax being evaded could have been used to provide basic infrastructure and needed amenities for the common man.

“Multinational corporations are systematically avoiding and evading taxes by abusing weaknesses within the national tax system and these abuses comprise a large part of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs), resulting in hundreds of billions of Naira in lost public revenues every year. These potential public revenues could and should have been used by government at all levels to provide economic and social services and infrastructures that are urgently needed to address inequalities.

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“However, instead of improving legislation and regulations, the Nigerian government is conceding more and more tax giveaways in the form of tax exemptions and incentives, as well as scaling back regulations with the alleged intention of attracting investment. At the same time, government is introducing copious austerity measures and increasing the tax burdens on the poor, particularly on women, which is in turn aggravating the precarious social situation of women in Nigeria

“Amid poverty and heightened levels of exposure to violence and insecurity, most women in excluded communities across Nigeria have poor access to food, potable water and the essential services they need, such as reproductive health services and social amenities. These basic amenities and services are vital for women’s survival, as well as empowering them to lead productive and meaningful lives.

“Loss of potential tax revenues due to corruption, tax avoidance and evasion, and IFFs — as well as austerity measures, prioritisation of debt servicing, privatisation and commercialsation of public services — have all significantly decreased women’s access to quality public services. These policy choices impact on women, both directly and indirectly.” she said.



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