Enhancing women’s engagement in key rural and agricultural markets in northern Nigeria

March 6, 2017



Since January 2015, WISE has been working with Palladium on Propcom Mai-karfi (PM), a 6 year (2012 – 2017), £27 million, UK aid-funded rural and agricultural market development programme with coverage across 19 states of northern Nigeria.

PM aims to increase the incomes of 650,000 poor men and women in northern Nigeria (by March 2020) by: (a) stimulating sustainable, pro-poor growth in selected rural markets and, (b) improving the position of poor men and women within these market systems, making them more inclusive for poor people. Of the 650,000 individuals targeted for impact, 250,000 are to be women. WISE has supported the PM team to select and outline an implementation strategy for addressing key market constraints to not only ensure increased income for women in northern Nigeria, but also to deliver a more transformative agenda for women’s economic empowerment (WEE).
The WISE team, comprising Fatimah Kelleher, Chibogu Obinwa, Ngukwase Surma and Georgia Taylor, have provided technical assistance at the intervention level, and initiated gender training to support change in team social norms.  Working with the team to build their capacity in WEE analysis, WISE has also expanded and significantly strengthened PM’s work with women’s groups and cooperatives as market actors. The WISE international consultants also provide mentoring and support to the team’s Gender & WEE Manager, and interacts at a strategic level on the programme’s management board.
In 2016 WISE has supported the implementation of a number of interventions to enhance women’s engagement in key rural and agricultural markets through targeted women’s economic empowerment interventions including:
  • Rice Parboiling
  • Acha Processing
  • Local Chicken Processing Market – linked to Poultry Health Intervention
  • Strategic support across PM’s agricultural inputs interventions, with a particular focus on the fertiliser market.

Rice parboiling

In northern Nigeria, the rice parboiling business is dominated by poor, rural women operating at the household level. Benefits derived from the inputs are constrained by a number of factors including lack of financial resources, limited access to profitable markets and poor negotiation skills which limits the women’s capacity when engaging with rice traders, especially male ones.
  • Establishing linkages between parboilers and traders: WISE introduced the PM team to Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI) who were contracted to provide leadership, negotiation and group strengthening training to women’s parboiling groups. WISE local consultants supported the process, which has contributed towards a more equitable interaction between the female rice parboilers and the male buyers. The new skills have increased their bargaining power and facilitated market access, which has had a positive impact on the women and their rice parboiling business, leading to increased sales. The women testify to having a more readily available market to sell their rice through their identified traders. Now that they conduct business more effectively as a group, they are more coordinated and have greater agency over their businesses, to the extent that other women are becoming interested in joining their groups. The relationship is developing into a partnership in which rice traders help the rice parboilers to better understand market needs. Rice traders are also enjoying the benefits of quality parboiled rice (well parboiled rice commands better prices). The business transactions are still ongoing, which indicates an element of sustainability with the market linkages.
It was a rewarding experience for me as part of the WISE team to have provided women’s economic empowerment field and analytical support to the Propcom Maikarfi Rice Parboiling intervention. Our initial field scoping in some of the focal communities in Kano and Jigawa States highlighted the challenges women face including limited access to markets, lack of information and resources, as well as lack of a strong agency and voice in the highly male dominated market structure. WISE developed recommendations that focused on building the capacity of the women rice parboilers in the areas of gender sensitive leadership, negotiation and business skills development, business-oriented group formation/networking, and establishment of business linkages. This was to enable the women to navigate these challenges and achieve quality and quantity output of production resulting in an increase in incomes.
The post-capacity building and market linkages assessment findings revealed that not only had the women rice parboilers enhanced their leadership, negotiation, record keeping and business skills, but they had also achieved a stronger synergy and agency through enhanced group formation and coordination, as well as established a more strategic and economically rewarding approach in their business relationship with the rice traders.  Through further observation while in the field, I personally witnessed a sharp contrast in the level of confidence and self esteem demonstrated by the women during the initial scoping visit compared with  the assessment visit (the latter reflected a significant positive change).  I also noted that not only did the women demonstrate the need to empower themselves economically in the rice parboiling business, but they further reflected the gains of the leadership training they received by embracing the strategic need to mentor other women in the area of rice parboiling, giving further credence to the adage  “there is strength in numbers.”  Hence one of the leaders (based in Kalgwai, Auyo community of Jigawa State) excitedly said, “I taught a few of my neighbors good record keeping and how to produce good quality rice as well as being polite to customers.”  The quantitative data assessment that accompanied the qualitative feedback confirmed that the women achieved significant increase in their incomes.  Chibogu Obinwa, WISE Associate


Acha Processing

Acha (Fonio) is an important cereal crop grown in some parts of Bauchi, Plateau and Kaduna states. Traditionally, producers pound the acha in a mortar to de-hull the grain, however this is difficult and time consuming, and acha farmers typically do not have access to mechanised methods for processing after harvest. The crop is associated with drudgery in production and processing which significantly impacts the marketability of the crop, as acha traders and farmers alike are unable to process substantial quantities of the commodity to sell in markets. Furthermore, the prices paid at markets often do not compensate for time and energy invested in the production of the crop. The majority of acha producers are women who normally have limited linkages to markets for their produce. The main issues identified with the value chain include: lack of appropriate technology to produce quality acha, weak linages to high value markets, and lack of access to operational finance for the acha processor.
  • Pye Ryat Foods International Ltd (PRFIL), a private sector entity, has been developing technologies for semi-processing of agricultural products. One of such technologies is equipment that can be used for processing acha. WISE has supported the work of the PM team in the partnership between PRFIL and Propcom Mai-karfi, to roll out an intervention aimed at providing processing services to acha farmers using semi-mechanised methods of de-husking, grading, de-stoning and winnowing. Results from the intervention indicate that, a) women are saving costs and time by reducing their labour burden and freeing time for them to engage in other business and household activities; and b) women are able to sell surplus acha to the processor. The intervention is therefore succeeding in facilitating market linkages for smallholder acha farmers in order to increase their incomes.

Local Chicken Processing Market Intervention strategically supporting the Poultry Health Intervention

The Poultry Health Intervention seeks to address issues around lack of knowledge and utilisation of veterinary products and services as well as a good distribution network within rural areas in northern Nigeria. The specific focus is on reducing the loss of birds as a result of the Newcastle diseases, which local chicken producers suffer in the region.
Since November 2016, WISE has been supporting the PM team to pilot a series of activities designed to increase the incomes and productivity of 20,000 rural female poultry farmers in northern Nigeria by 2017, by facilitating education on poultry production and business management, aggregation network strengthening and market linkages between local chicken producers and high-end consumers. The intervention seeks to raise the economic importance of local chickens in the minds of rural households, by creating a shift towards viewing local chickens as a source of income through capacity building activities and market linkages to processors and retailers to high-end markets.
The assumption here is that a growth in demand for local chicken from the high end market will stimulate interest in local chicken producers to invest in commercial production of traditional chicken, hence increasing the demand for veterinary products and services to safeguard their chickens.

Strategic support across PM’s agricultural inputs interventions

Photo credit: Propcom Mai-karfi / Nick Cavanagh
WISE has recently been providing support at a strategic level on PM’s agricultural inputs interventions, with the current focus on the fertiliser market. Over 30,000 farmers (including women farmers) have benefitted from access to affordable fertiliser through the intervention. Overall agricultural inputs have some of the highest numbers in terms of reaching women farmers within PM. Despite this however, the opportunity to increase the proportion of women accessing fertiliser was an area that WISE have been keen to explore – focus group discussions as part of WISE’s scoping in January 2015 (and subsequent field visits) clearly indicated that despite popular perceptions, northern Nigerian women are farming in large numbers and require strong links to fertiliser distributors, even for their comparatively smaller plots.
In October 2016, the PM Gender & WEE Manager was supported by WISE to initiate a study that would look at the role of women Rural Promoters (RPs) in reaching more women farmers in selected northern Nigerian states, as well as the motivational factors that drive women entrepreneurs specifically in the fertiliser retail business.  The results of that study are currently pending.  In addition, WISE has been advising PM on establishing linkages between selected, functional women’s groups and fertiliser distribution partners, providing direct access to the fertiliser market for women (potentially by-passing intermediaries) and a ready customer-base for the fertiliser companies themselves.  The establishment of those linkages are currently being initiated by PM.
With thanks to the  PM Communications Team for their support and inputs.