• Monday, July 15, 2024
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The Growing Disparity in Women’s Financial Agency in Nigeria: The Dairy Sector Case Study

women financial agency

According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2018 report on Women’s Market Inclusion, there are over 92 million women in Nigeria, yet only 23% of them have access to formal financial services – the vast majority living in urban areas. While cell phone ownership is high at over 75%, less than 2.6% of women in rural areas have access to mobile money. Additionally, only 10% of women have access to credit and 6% have access to extension services. Hauwa, a 26-year-old Fulani farmer, is one.

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Hauwa is the first wife of a smallholder dairy farmer in Fashola LGA, Oyo State. A mother of two children under 5, she splits her time between domestic, reproductive and farming labour. Hauwa’s husband is the owner of about 90 cattle at any given point, however, she has none. While she has a cell phone, she does not have a bank account, no access to credit or land, and no real means of saving or earning money in an efficient way. Hauwa’s story is not unique. While Nigeria is moving towards an enabling environment with mechanisms such as cashless payment channels, microfinancing, and specialized institutions aimed at community-based finance, these vital interventions tend to only reach those in urban areas and those with some form of financial history. It is those that arguably need it the most, young rural illiterate women, that remain marginalized.


54% of women live in rural areas, compared to 46% of men and women contribute to the agriculture sector in unique ways in Nigeria. Comprising of 30% of the agriculture labour force and dominating the informal processing, they are the primary producers of domestically consumed foods and the drivers of food processing, marketing and preservation. Despite the fundamental roles they play in the landscape, they continue to face major challenges that impede their productivity and the overall sustainability of agriculture in the country. Some of these challenges include the lack of capital and credit support that stifle their ability to buy quality inputs and products, their limited access to control and ownership of resources such as farms, land, livestock and inputs, further limiting their ability to build sustainable agricultural products and businesses. In addition to these, more women are uneducated, lack financial literacy, are untrained in good agricultural practices and lack extension services in comparison to men. They face stigmatization, cultural, norms and traditions that impact their decision-making capabilities both inside the household, within their communities and in their trade. Compounding this, smallholder women farmers often struggle to enter male-dominated professions such as distribution, transportation and logistics, and at times, women are forced to participate in the retail end of the value chain which usually has lower margins. According to the World Bank, currently, rural women farmers on average earn only 10% of the income from production and own 1% of the land they use. These challenges continue to hamper the growth of women’s productivity and agency in agribusiness.

Take dairy, for instance, women produce 95% of the raw milk in the Nigerian dairy sector, most of which are traded and processed informally. Despite the numerous challenges, they are responsible for feeding and taking care of the calves and smaller animals, milking the cows or receive the milk from men who own the cows and process the milk for local open markets, household consumption or commercial processors.

These acts alone cannot and will not lead to financial upliftment and attained agency by these women. Government and private sectors have fundamental roles to play in ensuring that the barriers that women face are alleviated in order for them to maximize their potential.

The Nigerian Dairy Development Program (NDDP) is a fitting example of how this can be done. NDDP was a processor-led program implemented by Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition in partnership with dairy processors FrieslandCampina WAMCO and L&Z Integrated Farms, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Kano and Oyo states governments.

NDDP aimed to enhance the livelihoods of participating smallholder dairy farmers by improving their productivity and integrating them into the formal dairy value chain. With five out of the seven objectives directly linked to gender, NDDP had a clear mandate to uplift the rural smallholder women dairy farmer. With this directive, NDDP began by conducting a study that examined gender relations, norms, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, and practices among participating smallholder dairy communities in order to inform the design of program interventions to improve the inclusion and empowerment of women dairy farmers. Through robust interviews and focus group discussions with Hauwa and other smallholder female farmers in Kano and Oyo states, NDDP formulated key strategies to mitigate some of the issues they faced. These interventions included integrating women farmers into the formal value chain so they could sell their milk directly to commercial processors, providing government female extension agents to communities for women to have the opportunity to participate in training and extension services without conflicting with traditional norms and building boreholes in rural communities so that women did not have to travel long distances to fetch water. At the end of the three-year program, the women’s income had increased by an average of 108%.

In the second phase of the program, Sahel in partnership with more private sector stakeholders and Government will expand this program to encompass female financial inclusion that will provide awareness of the benefits of formal savings to the women and assist in the development of a robust mobile banking solution for women to begin independent savings and increase their income decision-making power. Moreover, the program will explore various mechanisms of providing access to credit to smallholder women farmers and mechanisms of income diversification through their ability to obtain small livestock and the production of nutritious crops such as vegetables and cereals which they can sell at local markets.

Solutions to ensuring equity and empowering women have to be multi-pronged and comprehensive. At the Federal and state levels, Government must hire, train and deploy more female extension officers to the rural communities that will then be able to train rural smallholder women. The private sector must provide the technical capacity, financial backing and implementation support. Lastly, NGO’s must prioritize gender-sensitive programs within their funding frameworks.

“Left to Right: Hauwa, Fisayo (Sahel Consulting), Deborah (SMAP, the only female artificial insemination technician available for NDDP in Oyo)”

Through thoughtful action, access, and change, the average rural smallholder woman dairy farmer like Hauwa will have the opportunity to financially contribute to her family while efficiently saving and building her financial profile – giving her a greater chance of financial agency and independence.


Ify Umunna

Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Limited