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Nigeria: Young women are proving their mettle in agriculture

Published 19 Feb,2021 via The Nation - The growth in the Nigerian national economy has been credited to agriculture which accounts for over 20% of Nigeria’s GDP. The importance of agriculture in any nation’s economy cannot be over emphasized. The agricultural value chain in any well planned economy is a huge employer of labour and revenue earner. According to the federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, women account for 75 percent of the farming population in Nigeria. They are equally a great part of the agriculture supply chain in both the formal and informal sectors.

The role of women in the agricultural sector in the country has been very pivotal to the success of that sector principally due to their nurturing, leadership and multi-tasking nature. However, despite their huge contributions, agriculture is somehow instinctively seen as a man’s field possibly because of socio-cultural perceptions.

However, the changing global trends have seen the younger generation of women raising the bar in a sector that often gives them less credit and support. There are more determined female entrepreneurial players in the agricultural value chain and more and more young women are bringing their grit and industry to agriculture in ways that seem to be saying, ‘do not ignore us, even in agriculture, women leadership, industry and the ability to multitask and be optimally productive is for the good of our country’.

The RoundTable Conversation sat down with the Lagos state Commissioner for Agriculture, Abisola Olusanya who had had been called to serve from the private sector. An Abisola came into her new role with valued and valid experience in leadership as she had been in charge of sales, marketing and supply chain management with a specialty in executing strategies towards food security, SME inclusion, growth and profitability. She comes to the job with an obvious passion for leadership excellence and service.

Abisola seems to be reaffirming the dictum that ‘when the mother goat is chewing grass, the kid watches and learns too’. Her leadership instincts obviously come from a father who is well grounded in public life and service. Her father, Asipa Laoli Olusanya was the Commissioner for Agriculture during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as governor in Lagos.

Abisola recollects that her father had always shown leadership and loyalty as a politician and that inspired a daughter who is slowly blossoming and telling the father subtly, ‘dad, what you a man can do, I, a woman would definitely do even better’. In essence there is no gender barrier to excellence in leadership and sense of service especially when you learnt in house.

Abisola believes that coming from the corporate world having worked for eight years at Olam Ghana, her present leadership position is a call to service that demands she brings her experience from working at Olam Ghana Rice and Sugar supply business of well over 180 million dollars annually to the table of public service in Lagos state.

As one who manned the local supply chain aspect for the local market with international intelligence in making all the decisions it had to be a multi-faceted kind of role because you were dealing with global commercial partners and you had to understand prices, the weather patterns and how it is going to affect crops and the impact on importation of crops. Having enjoyed the freedom to take the best decisions in the interest of the organization where everyone’s output was constantly monitored she came into public office hoping in her small way to impart excellence.

She is determined to make sure she inculcates that in all the staff in the agriculture ministry knowing how pivotal the ministry is to economies’ suevival. So coming into public service with her background is an opportunity to bring in the private sector added efficiency that can help people seeing that an invitation to serve is a call to service. No matter how high up in the corporate anyone is, the call to service should not be ignored and as such she feels she has been honoured with a rare opportunity to pay back and impact on a few lives.

Service is the biggest motivation to her as a person and she is happy that the governor is very encouraging and tries to give everyone all the needed freedom to put in their best. The hunger to change what one can is a valid energizing force. Olam Ghana is very entrepreneurial and target-driven, so coming from such an institution where your performance is measured every step of the way into the public sector inspires one to bring the best attitudes into public life. Imparting excellence, making sure numbers matter and that everyone is target- driven is a very unique and productive way of doing business and will obviously assist in serving the people.

We must learn that data is important, there must be goals to be achieved. Each department or unit must be efficiency driven. I come to work every day realizing that I am on a temporary assignment not a lifetime job. I may be asked to exit anytime and what that implies is that I must try to utilize government resources in the most efficient way possible such that a greater number of people would benefit and people feel the efficiency of the initiatives, projects and activities of government. More people should feel the government directly through the actions we that are called to serve take.

As a young woman, I go to work every day taking advantage of the opportunity I have been given to motivate the staff in the ministry to remember that each action they take or do not take impacts on the system because when the people especially the youths are availed opportunities through our collective actions, there would be a reduction in crimes and the society would be safer and more productively stable for us all.

As a young female in public service, my advice to the youths is to go out there and seek out how they can benefits from government interventions and initiatives. The youths have to do more research around possibilities, partnerships, synergies and initiatives by government even when this administration has always tried to put out those needed information.

I believe that to progress as a nation, we must have a strict value reorientation. Leadership should neither be gender nor age specific and the governor of Lagos Babajide Sanwo-Olu has proved that by the number of women and young people like me who have been called to serve. We must be more focused at work to realize the impact of our actions or inactions either in the private or public sector.

The RoundTable Conversation encountered another lady breaking boundaries in the agricultural sector. She is a female cattle herder from Nsukka. Ekene Obayi has a degree in Archeology and Tourism from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Having searched for jobs without success after her national youth service, she decided to join her family business of cattle rearing. Even though her decision to go into cattle rearing coincided with her husband’s period of recovery from an accident, it is a business she currently does with great pride and satisfaction despite the odds and financial constraints.

She feels her not finding a white-collar job is now a blessing because she has seemingly set some records in a country where cattle rearing is seemingly getting synonymous with sorrow, blood, death, injustice and ethnic tension. She recalls that her in-laws have reared cattle for decades but has had no issues of farmer-herder clashes and wonders why all of a sudden cattle herding seems such an endangered occupation. For her as a woman who has been in the business for long, it’s almost an obsession for her. In the course of rearing the cattle, she discovered the bond that herders have with each cattle in ways that they communicate without talking.

She is often pained at the sudden acrimonious relationship between some unscrupulous cattle herders and the many communities and recalls how one Fulani herdsmen she encountered in one part of Nsukka actually appreciated her job and even gave her a cow as a gift. To her, she feels there has been a mismanagement of that sector of the economy. The government must take cattle rearing as a serious business that adds value to the economy and can actually create a chain of value added jobs if the country can structure better organized ranching systems as done in other countries.

She feels that both the federal and state governments seem to ignore the fact that meat production and other ancillary dairy products from cows could be a big foreign exchange earner for the country aside from creating jobs for the teeming youths.

As a woman in the cattle rearing business, she believes that it is an agricultural sector that should not be a male-only business. Rearing cattle does not mean carrying them on your head so no one needs masculine energy to rear cattle. Women to her must begin to break away from some socio-cultural inhibitions about certain occupations especially in agriculture. She is happy that necessity has seen more women breaking boundaries in the agriculture beyond what she is doing right now. Many women are now agriprenuers and adding value to the economy.

The only snag for her is that a field like the cattle business is very capital intensive and governments must begin to make policies that can encourage financial institutions to help young people like her to access funds with low interest rates as is done in other countries for farmers. Despite other challenges in the business, that of funds and loans seem to be too heavy a burden not only for her but for some other youths she has inspired.

Nigerian governments must continue to open up and invest in sectors like the agricultural one to young people like Abisola and Ekene as agriculture is the global highest employer of labour. The women are already excelling in leadership here.

The dialogue continues…

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