In Nigeria, women play key roles in food and nutrition security through their contributions to agricultural production, their influence on how to allocate household income, and their efforts to ensure proper nutrition for all household members. However, malnutrition remains widespread among rural women and children in Nigeria, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic and amid the current global food crisis.
To help meet this challenge and empower farming women to improve nutrition, the CGIAR’s HarvestPlus program is deepening its longstanding partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Agricultural Development Program (ADP)—specifically, through the ADP’s Women in Agriculture (WIA) Extension Program. The WIA platform has proven to be a sustainable and effective mechanism for women to reach out to other women with agricultural information and technologies. Notably, the WIA approach helps break through religious and cultural barriers that may prevent some women from gaining access to life-improving knowledge and resources.
Through support from AGRA, HarvestPlus is strengthening the knowledge and capacity of about 500 WIA women officers in several states on the promotion of healthy feeding practices, nutrition, and promotion of biofortified crops and foods. The officers will then be able to include biofortification messages and trainings as part of their activities with women in the communities where they work, with the aim of motivating women farmers and their families to produce, process, distribute, and consume biofortified crops and foods.
WIA training in Imo state
At trainings in Imo state, located in South East Nigeria, 32 WIA officers were selected from different senatorial districts and local government areas to learn how to create awareness about biofortification, and how to process some newly developed biofortified crop-based foods, especially snacks, complimentary foods and traditional meals.
Elsie Emecheta leads the WIA Imo state chapter. She is an advocate for fostering the success and security of smallholder farmers. Within the last few years, she has helped strengthen collective influence to shape policy debates on issues that affect women and girls; she has also supported the national mission to end hunger and malnutrition by raising awareness through nutrition health talks and training. She has highlighted deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and other micro-nutrients, which are widely prevalent across the country and have led to the decline in the physical and mental development of children, and ill health among adults, especially women and lactating mothers. Emecheta also has campaigned to integrate gender issues in agricultural policies and programs.
Emecheta was pleased that the training was expanding her team’s knowledge of biofortified crop and food production and processing. “Hidden hunger is a big problem. In today’s Nigeria, it has been confirmed through research that malnutrition is the main cause of maternal and child illness. We are here to learn more about biofortification and how to develop finished products from these nutrient-enriched crops,” she said.
Emecheta added: “Following this [training], we will be involved in enlightening women in rural areas. We are hoping that the officers will be inspired to mainstream biofortified crops and foods in their messaging and training with women. We believe they will be well-equipped to implement this knowledge in their various zones and communities.”
WIA trainings attract diverse group
The training for WIA officers also drew women agri-preneurs and influencers, representatives of rural cooperatives, and from some NGOs engaged in gender and livelihood programs. Emecheta was happy the event has raised awareness about the critical role of women in agriculture and how direct support for female business owners will play a role in ensuring a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable food system in the South East of Nigeria.
“As part of the training, the women will be exposed to the technologies for producing products such as snacks, complementary foods, and traditional household meals from biofortified cassava, and maize. We have introduced them to processing the products for business and home consumption. We have about 32 women undergoing the training,” said Emecheta.
Emecheta and her group have developed a new-found entrepreneurial spirit, spurring women to invest in biofortified cassava and maize cultivation. She is very confident that the opportunities afforded by the HarvestPlus initiative in Imo state will help the participants establish themselves as positive influencers of other women, successful biofortified crop farmers, processors, and marketers.
Olatundun Kalejaiye, Nutrition and Post-Harvest Officer at HarvestPlus, was excited to be part of the efforts to ensure women can make better nutrition choices while also improving their income generation abilities as this will lead to inclusive economic growth for women in Imo state.
For her, building a food-secure future starts when one woman is empowered to know that she doesn’t need to be wealthy before her family can be well nourished. What women need is the right knowledge of nutrition and how to choose their foods, how to combine them and how to prepare them. If one woman is nutrition smart, she can influence her daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces, grandchildren, and on and on, from generation to generation.
Said Kalejaiye: “We have women who have come for this training without an idea of what biofortification is all about. This is an opportunity to educate and sensitize them and create the needed awareness about the potential for women and children in the communities where they live.”
The HarvestPlus program of the CGIAR focuses on helping to realize the potential of agricultural development by delivering gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to nutrition-vulnerable populations. HarvestPlus currently works with Nigerian partners to promote vitamin A-biofortified cassava, maize, and orange sweet potato. By the end of 2021, 1.8 million smallholder farming families were growing vitamin A cassava and 1.6 million were growing vitamin A maize.