Women and children peeling cassava at Ajegunle processing centre in Oyo
During a visit to some women-dominated small-scale food processing centres, the situations confirmed economic and infrastructural relegation of female stakeholders.
Food processors in the western part of Nigeria, for instance, struggle with shortage of basic amenities such as potable water, storage facilities, toilet facilities and conducive processing environments.
A visit to Ajagunle Processing Centre, opposite Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo township, Nigeria, where over 300 women and nearly 2000 workers and relatives process cassava into gari and lafun, two local derivative staples from cassava roots, revealed the deplorable state or total absence of supporting infrastructure for small-holder women processors.x
Machinery for grating the crops at the centres are owned by fewer male counterparts, for such fabrications are out of the reach of most women. One of the women leaders in the cluster, Mrs Rashidat Olatunji, who spoke with The Guardian, lamented absence of a borehole source of water despite tonnes of cassava processed in the centre daily. The leader said no fewer than four trailer-loads of cassava roots, estimated at 100 metric tonnes, were processed under such conditions daily.
As of the time of filing this report, they sourced water from shallow wells in the neighbourhood, and the situation gets aggravated in the dry seasons as the climate change takes its toll on the water availability. Women and other workers also peeled the roots under the scorching sun.
Another women representative at the centre, Mrs Nike Sulaimon, while conducting The Guardian round the location, lamented the absence of toilet facilities, forcing processors and their associates to pollute the neighbourhood with open defecation.
The centre, on the Ibadan-Oyo-Ilorin road, in Atiba Local Government Area of Oyo State, has a polling booth, and the women are usually mobilised during elections, but elected representatives have done nothing to improve their working conditions and means of livelihood.
Mrs Bisi Ogunsola, a cassava peel aggregator at the centre, also explained that Tradermoni, a pet project of the Federal Government to empower traders and women, especially in the build-up to the 2019 general elections, did not get to them.x
This, according to her, deprived women in the centre of means of expanding their operations. She called on the government to empower them with credit facilities. Yufuf Jelila, another woman processor at Irewole Processing Centre, on the Oyo-Ibadan Expressway, Oyo, said the women needed sheds under which peeling of roots, grinding of roots, frying of garri and other value addition activities could be carried on, as most of the peeling work was done under the scorching sun.
At Eleyele Waterworks area of Ibadan, where women also cluster to add value to crops, the same situation applied, except the presence of some wells. A women leader at the centre, Alhaja Aweni Raifu, who spoke with The Guardian, said when the wells dried up in the peak of the current dry season, they did fetch water from the stream.
There, there have never been government-enabled financial or credit facilities for the processors, but women depended on individual and cooperative efforts.
At Kila, a border town between Ogun and Oyo State, where mostly women add post-harvest value to crops, drying and frying the grated products was cumbersome. Streams were sources of water, and there was no storage facility. This exposes the by-products to contamination and food poisoning, and likely infestation of Lassa fever.
A banker turned-farmer and processor, Mrs Bola Adeyemo, who also trains and empowers other women processors in Eruwa, Oyo State, said lack of infrastructure affects women processors, chief among them are water and electricity, which are essentially for processing at all levels.
“Poor electricity remains a hindrance to the type of processing equipment a processor will buy. “Women are 80 per cent in [small-scale] processing; we occupy about 20 per cent in cultivation. Equipment most women use shall remain obsolete as long as we don’t have electricity supply that a processor can plan with.”
A lecturer at Lead City University and rice processor in Ibadan, Dr Nike Olagunju, in an interview with The Guardian on challenges of women in agriculture and food processing, disclosed that smallholder farmers take the larger percentage of the farming business, where real farming and outputs are done.x
“At least, statistical literatures reveal that about 90 per cent of domestic producers are smallholders. And of these smallholder farmers, researchers have indicated that 65- 70 per cent are women, meaning that they occupy a larger share of farm-to-table work strength in the Nigerian agriculture,” she said.
She recommended that to assist women in agriculture and food processing, “the first thing to do is to provide them with little make-shift homes where they can comfortably keep the little children. This will give the relief they need for total concentration and dedication in their farming activities.”
Also, she said: “These women are found in all the food chain processing frontlines. Therefore, having them in clusters for help is essential.” She underscored the communal or shared facilities for effective and life-easing processing interventions.
“In the clusters, they could avail the opportunity of light to heavy machines which could make them more productive with less stress, as they still need to leave work for other family necessities,” Olagunju added.
She advised that transportation should be subsidised, while provision of improved varieties of seeds, better breeds of animals with desirable traits and simple processing equipment be introduced to women farmers and processors with adequate training opportunities and information brought to their clusters by agricultural extension workers.
In the north-central city of Ilorin, Kwara State, processing clusters at Ganmo and Amayo, two suburbs on the Ilorin-Osogbo Road, women-run food processing centres, where post-harvest activities in grains, cassava and yam value chains go on round the year, basic challenges include poor water sources, using firewood and charcoal as sources of processing energy instead of gas-powered burners; unwholesome environment and lack of toilet and storage facilities.
•This investigative report is supported by Orodata Science.