By Benjamin Jimmy
Small-scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria (SWOFON), on Wednesday, August 31st, 2022 said over 500,000 women are presently members of the women farmers’ associations and groups in Nigeria, whose primary responsibility is to ensure increased food production in the country.
Speaking at the South-South Region Strategic Engagement with stakeholders across the South-South states held at Watbridge Hotel, Uyo, the SWOFON President, Mrs. Mary Afan disclosed that the organization has chapters in all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, thereby giving it a national outlook.
The President, who explained that the meeting was organized to provide SWOFON the opportunity to address the emerging food security concerns in Nigeria, said the organization decided to host its meeting in Akwa Ibom, with a view to strengthening the capacity of small-scale women farmers in the state in particular, and by extension, in other South-South states.
“ We have been trying to see how we can support all the 36 states by visiting our women. So, we decided to come to the Niger Delta and to Akwa Ibom State.
“ And you know that Niger Delta states are states that are being affected by this issue of oil spill and also, they produce a lot of foods here. But, because we have been having interactions with them; they have not actually been getting support from government and critical stakeholders to increase their production.
“So we now said: let’s move to them and have a one-to-one discussion with them and let’s see how we can come together and support increase in production”.
The SWOFON President however stated that the meeting had produced a total of 19 issues as challenges confronting the organization in the South-South Region, but said six were considered critical which must be given urgent attentions.
The challenges, she enumerated, include; inadequate grants for women farmers, lack of training and capacity building, inaccessibility of farm inputs, farm equipment that is not gender friendly, improved agricultural budget, among others.
Mrs. Afan revealed that members of SWOFON are engaged in all the agricultural value chain, from planting to processing, storage and marketing, thereby revealing the strategic importance of the organization to the nation.
According to the President, SWOFON which organises and empowers women farmers’ associations and groups to track and engage duty bearers around agricultural expenditures and investments, is also saddled with the responsibility of engaging the government to improve existing agricultural policies to support women smallholder farmers.
Mrs. Afan, who averred that the women are real farmers who have been contributing towards food production for the growing Nigerian population, said SWOFON rests on three cardinal pillars of food availability, affordability and accessibility.
Addressing women farmers on the occasion, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare, Dr. Ini Adiakpan stated that Governor Udom Emmanuel had done a lot to encourage farmers in the state by giving farm inputs, cassava cuttings and others to them to boost food availability in the state.
She disclosed that the state had gone into planting of crops which hitherto were not planted, and urged the women to embrace industrial farming method which, according to her, can only be learnt through workshops, seminars and stakeholders’ meetings like SWOFON’s engagement.
She therefore, appreciated SWOFON for taking up such initiatives to support women farmers in the South-South states, urging members of the farmers’ organization to continue to engage relevant stakeholders in the sector.
Speaking in an interview with our reporter, some of the women farmers said the meeting had become necessary to rally support for the South-South women farmers to do more in food production.
One of the women, the State President of National Council for Women Society, Akwa Ibom State Branch, Hon. Idongesit Okoko affirmed that the event was held to enable the women farmers to start putting into practice, all the outcomes of previous meetings which she said were aimed at boosting their capacity in food production.
In her words: “ It’s a welcome development, because we have been talking and talking to the women. Now, we want to work the talk, because that’s the only way we can get to where we intend going.
“I think that is what SWOFON is doing – getting the agric talk down to the grassroots; to the local governments; to the wards so that the women at the grassroots can also benefit from what other farmers in the city are getting”, she stated.
Mrs. Akeghjifa Diffa, coordinator of SWOFON, Bayelsa State, while fielding questions from our reporter, said the women farmers gathered in Akwa Ibom to engage stakeholders on how farmers could improve their agricultural activities, as well as canvass for increase in budgetary provisions for the agricultural sector in the state.
She also urged the women, especially those at the grassroots to form a formidable frontiers that would engage the government, with a view to helping them meet up with all the demands SWOFON had presented.
The SWOFON South-South Strategic Engagement Meeting had as one of its highpoints, the symbolic handover of crude farm implements to the representative of the Curator, National Museum, Uyo, Mr. Nsikak Inyang.
The symbolic event, according to the SWOFON President, was to mark the end of the use of primitive farm tools and the beginning of application of modern farming techniques which she noted is the way forward for food production in the country.
Receiving the implements, Mr. Inyang promised that the tools would be documented and kept in the museum as relics, which would indicate that they are no longer in use.
The SWOFON meeting also had goodwill messages from the Ministry of Agriculture, Akwa Ibom State, Ministry of Economic Development, National Council for Women Society, Akwa Ibom State Branch, among other stakeholders.
The stakeholders who said time had come for the women farmers to take advantage of all available openings for loans, grants and farm inputs, pledged to collaborate with them to ensure that much is achieved for the overall benefits of all Nigerians.