Thank you for the invitation to speak at this very important occasion. I feel particularly honoured by the opportunity to speak on the topic: Creating Sustainable Agriculture To Generate Economic Profitability, Social And Economic Equity; but first, permit me to show you a video on what we do at The Better Life Program For The African Rural Woman. I hope this will set a tone for what I’m about to discuss.
I must mention that a year ago, none of those women could speak a single word of English. They could not even evaluate their produce when they went to the market, so they were at the mercy of buyers who would exploit them all the time. Today, the story is very different. This was made possible because we took deliberate action to empower each woman.
As you have seen, The Better Life Program is focused on harnessing the individual potential inherent in each woman. We are passionate about the holistic development of The African Woman as an individual, and strategically positioning her as the catalyst that will drive positive change in her community. We need to understand that development represents a deliberate event or set of deliberate events constituting a new stage in a changing situation.
Personally, I am not an advocate for gender equality or social and economic equity. Why do we have to be equal if we can be better? I am a strong believer that each individual (male or female) needs to be given the right set of tools and an enabling environment designed deliberately for them to function – this is the key to sustainable development. It has to be deliberate and focused on achieving predetermined results. These actions also have to be practical, scalable and measurable.
Let us look beyond the limitations of Gender Equality and focus on designing tools for the African Woman to function exceptionally. Being equal to our male counterparts does not guarantee success; it only creates a level playing field which has the tendency to be abused if it is not achieved through merit.
Let us start thinking beyond Social and Economic Equity and raise the standards bar; by developing one woman at a time, who can leave her mark both socially and economically, a mark so imposing that it sets the standard for both male and female alike. I ask you again, why do we have to be equal if we can be better?
I have been asked to speak on Agriculture. This is a topic I am so passionate about especially because most of the Rural Women we work with are farmers. I am also passionate about the youth, which explains why a lot of our activities are targeted at them. It breaks my heart when I hear comments like “Our youth are too ambitious, they don’t want to farm!” Unfortunately, if we are going to talk about “Sustainable Agriculture” we have to project into the future. Without the youth, there is no future!
There is nothing wrong with ambition, in fact ambition is the positive energy we need to promote youth engagement; the real issue is that we need to create an enabling environment that nurtures the ambition and channels it positively. To do this effectively, we need to design the right set of tools and change the poverty mindset and the drudgery associated with agriculture.
The Agricultural value chain provides much more opportunities than our minds can conceive. We keep witnessing daily, the development of new technologies, opportunities and markets within the agricultural value chain. Agriculture in itself is responsible for employing over 60% of Nigeria’s workforce, either directly or indirectly. My position is that to fully explore the potentials of this industry, we need to create two distinct and parallel economies that function within their set geographical environments, but depend on each other for resources and services as the case may be. I will like to propose:
- A Rural Producing Economy
- An Urban Marketing Force
The Rural Economy will be focused largely on production. This is achievable because of the availability of Land and other factors that encourage farming. We need to nurture this economy to begin to adopt technology that will enable them communicate with the Urban Force and make production easier; groom aggregators within this economy that will learn to gather, preserve and store agricultural produce; teach them basic processing skills to help them reduce wastages; and, make funding available to them through the cooperative model.
We also need to start teaching them how to empower themselves through creativity, to a point where they can start retailing infrastructure; for example, a group of individuals can come together to run pipes for irrigation and charge farmers for water per plot, or they can develop an unsophisticated ploughing device and rent out to farmers. The mindset has to change from subsistence to sustainable farming.
The Urban Marketing Force will be largely responsible for locating commodities in rural areas and facilitating the value chain processes beyond harvest. We have to train an aggressive youthful force to learn how to process agric commodities to basic food stuff that can be marketed in Urban Areas; we need transportation to move these products to the Urban Centres with little or no wastage; we need people to package these products for market and for export; we need people to start creating information dissemination and communication platforms (ICT) that allow Urban off takers to locate Rural producers; we need people to produce machinery and equipments; we need veterinary experts and extension workers; we need Commodity Marketers; we need people that will train and build capacity; most importantly, the part we always overlook, we need people to tell the success stories.
We find ourselves in this generation where information is changing the business landscape every second, telling the story is the first step towards changing the poverty mindset and encouraging more people to venture into the turf.
How will all this change the plight of women? I mentioned earlier that development represents a deliberate event or set of deliberate events constituting a new stage in a changing situation. Gender Equality, Social Equality and Economic Equality suggest benchmarking against an already existing structure, which can be very limiting.
Instead of striving to be equal, we can create programs that deliberately empower women to be the very best they can be. We can organise them in groups or cooperatives and provide the necessary tools to empower them. We can structure a system of two economies that will run parallel and eventually collaborate for Economic Profitability in Agriculture.
I don’t want to be equal, I want to be the best I can be; and I believe I am speaking for millions of women across Africa and the world at large! This should be the deliberate event constituting a new stage in a changing situation – The point when we determine that together we can be greater than just being equal.
Thank you and God bless!
See below for more of my thoughts on Agriculture as a means to empowerment.
I am so excited to share my first #contributor piece on @leversinheels about how Nigeria’s #agriculture industry can support our economic development. Find the full piece here: https://t.co/T9atFVwwSy and check out all the enlightening articles about women in #STEM #WomenRising pic.twitter.com/fWxHd6zTdB
— Aisha I Babangida (@AishaIBabangida) April 19, 2018