Nigerian Women Agro-entrepreneurship Development: Issues and Challenges
Suleiman (2006) defined entrepreneurship as “the willingness and ability of an individual to seek for investment opportunities to establish and run an enterprise successfully” while Drucker viewed an entrepreneur as a person who perceives business opportunities and takes advantage of the scarce resources and uses them profitably. Entrepreneurs are job creators and/or become self-employed rather than seekers of jobs in an overstretched public service. Using USA standard, a woman-owned enterprise is a small enterprise that is at least 51% owned, managed and operated by one or more women.
A small-scale farming is a farm holding established on a land area of not less than 5 hectares. In Nigeria, most of the small-scale farming enterprises are owned by men. This does not imply that Nigerian women agriculturists are not desirous of expanding their businesses due to so many challenges which border on gender issues, economic or socio-cultural barriers as well as government unfavourable policies. This paper, a purely descriptive research, employs secondary data to expound on the issues and challenges confronting the development of the Nigerian women to full blown agro- entrepreneurs for national economic advancement. The rest of the discussion in this paper is organized along the following issues;
· Women’s potentials in entrepreneurial skills.
· Why women entrepreneurship development?
· Policy Framework for Women Entrepreneurship Development.
· Challenges faced by women agro-entrepreneurs.
· Strategies for development of women agro-entrepreneurs.
Women’s Potentials in Entrepreneurial Skills
Women in general are naturally endowed with some exceptional abilities, which if properly harnessed for entrepreneurship purpose, could result in positive and enviable results. Women by nature;
v Have creative abilities
v Are blessed with ability to persist and pursue their desires
v Are good and patient nurtures of children, and this tenacity is usually transferred into business
v Are good innovators
v Have ability to develop passion for what they believe in
Waton (undated) cited in Okara (2005) identified the basic requirements of an entrepreneur to include: hardwork, teamwork, commitment, appreciation, listening, high expectations, setting achievable goals. Women, by nature and exposure to family relationships, possess most of these qualities that are essential and can be enhanced for entrepreneurial success.
Why Women Entrepreneurship Development?
Many researchers have shown that poverty is a malady that incapacitates its victim economically and indirectly subject him/her to a state of destitution, voicelessness, powerlessness and even violence (World Bank 2000; Okojie, 2002) Unfortunately, the most affected sex by the above incapacitation are women and children. Statistics show that women are poorer than men. The UNDP (1995) estimated that, about 60% of the world-poors, are women. Women are poorer because they are more vulnerable economically.
The findings of Thane (1978), Showalter (1987) and Lewis and Piachered (1987) cited in Magaji (2004) showed that women have been the poor sex throughout the 20th Century and have formed a substantial majority of the poor since poverty was first recognized. On why women are the poorest sex, the physical strength of women and various challenges limit them to specific soft duties making it difficult to be enterprising. Entrepreneurship development therefore is a crucial tool for women’s economic empowerment.
The benefits derivable from empowering the women folk are far reaching, starting with family advancement and eventually touching on the national and global economic advancement. According to the Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya H. S. Bungudu, the latest Nigerian census revealed that women constitute 49.9% of the nation’s population; the underrepresentation of women (2%) in the nation’s development processes in finance, business and investment fronts renders 40% of the population inadequately positioned to contribute to the economic growth of the country. It is the nation that blends the strengths of women and men that will lead the world in development (Kiyosaki 1993) in the field of agriculture and other sectors.
Entrepreneurship or investing is not an exclusive reserve of any gender. Both women and men generate the same result provided they follow the principles of investment. Kiyosaki (1993) proves with statistical data in United States, that women are better investors than men. A year 2000 National Association of Investors Corporation (NAIC) study found that women-only clubs achieved average annual returns of 32% since 1951 versus 23% for men-only investment clubs. The verdict is; women know how to handle money and can be greater entrepreneurs than men if the various obstacles to development is removed or minimized.
Policy Framework for Women Entrepreneurship Development
There are neither policies nor strategies for entrepreneurship development that is specifically tailored to women (Olutunla, 2008). The Nigerian government’s policy of promoting entrepreneurship dated back to the early 1970s. The hope of promoting small scale enterprises to stimulate entrepreneurship was documented in the 2nd National Development Plan (1970-74). This policy continued in the 3rd (1975-80) and the 4th National Development Plan through various strategies of technical, financial and management of the small scale industries. The Federal Government’s concern for the menacing problem of mass unemployment in the mid-1980s spurred the setting up of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in 1986 and the Work For Yourself Programme (WFYP) in 1987. Both were essentially joint programmes of training and financial support to entrepreneurs. The NDE operations included three core programmes (i) Youth Employment and Vocational Skills Development Program (YEVSDP) (ii) agricultural programs (iii) the small scale industries and graduate employment scheme. The NDE, though starved of fund for some time, has achieved a lot in promoting employment, create wealth and alleviating women poverty. The Better Life for Rural Women Programme (BLRWP) initiative of a first lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Maryam Babangida, was an entrepreneurship development programme specifically for promoting education, health and economic development of women. It made unprecedented contribution to women through the cooperative organizations. The spirit of BLRWP is still operating today through the subsequent first ladies. A number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also came up to promote entrepreneurship development. Prominent amongst them was the Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN) which contributed immensely towards women entrepreneurship development through organization of many cooperatives and micro-credit schemes and in partnership with the United Nations.
The Role of Women in Agriculture
A significant amount of work has been carried out in developing countries on the potential of women in boosting food production. Boserup (1970) described Black Africa as the region of female farming par excellence. FAO (1982) estimated that the rural women contribute two-third of all the time that is put into traditional agriculture in Africa. Accat (1983) also pointed out that 80% of African women are engaged in agriculture. Patel and Antonio (1973) reported that 95% of the Yoruba women of the Southwestern Nigeria are engaged in farm works, growing yams, maize, tobacco and cassava, poultry and fish farming. They also participate in bush clearing, land preparation and weeding. In addition to their role in production, they are actively engaged in harvesting, processing and marketing of farm produce. The participation of Igbo men in nonfarm activities and waged employment has resulted in an increased workload for women in food crop production as well as a breakdown of the gender division of labor in agriculture. Igbo women now undertake some of the conventional male agricultural tasks in addition to those in the female domain (Ezumah and Di Domenico, 1995). The predominance of women in the small-scale fisheries post-harvest activities: micro-fish retailing, fish processing, fish distribution and marketing, make women the major players in the socio-economic development of the West African countries.
Despite women’s extensive and varied participation in agriculture, they continue to have less access to credit and modern agriculture inputs. Consequently, their farm works is labor-intensive, yields meager economic returns (Buvinie and Mehra, 1990) and operate mostly at subsistence level. International Labour Organization (ILO 2003) quoted in Akpera and Sunday (2008) reported that Nigerian and African women entrepreneurs in general are in the micro enterprise sector and almost invisible in the small and medium enterprise categories.
The Challenges of Nigerian Women Agro-Entrepreneurs
Some of the many obstacles that hinder women enterprise development, agribusiness growth and improved income earnings include;
The greatest challenge for Nigerian women in agribusiness is lack of finance. Women in agribusiness need substantial finance both for start-up and expansion. Finance could be in form of equity or from external sources. Equity from informal sources includes personal savings, friends and relatives, traditional (esusu), professional and age-group associations as well as formal co-operative societies.
External finance is majorly from banks (specialized, development, commercial, etc), government agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), international donors, etc. Entrepreneurs are expected to provide, in some cases, 25% of fund applied for and/or produce collaterals before accessing these external finances. It has been difficult for women to raise equity for own business because most women interested or engaged in farming earn low income. Many of the commercial or development banks are reluctant to grant agricultural loans due generally to the high agricultural risk factor or because they do not have competent assessors as in the case of fish farming. The high interest rate charged as well as the demand for collateral of landed property or other assets also compound the issue.
Currently, the Microfinance banks (MFB) are the government’s latest major organ of policy for entrepreneurship finance in Nigeria. In an ongoing research conducted recently, it was discovered that male to female application and approval by MFB are in the ratio 65% to 35%. This discrepancy was linked to women entrepreneurs approaching banks on an individual basis and lack of soundly written business plan and/or feasibility studies (Olutunla, 2008).
2) Manpower and Education
The whole business be- it agricultural or any other, revolves around the entrepreneur (visionary) as she combines all other human, financial and material resources to create an enterprise of value. The chief executive of the business outfit must be knowledgeable to effectively mobilize resources to advantage. Agribusiness at small or medium scale is highly professional, technologically driven and require some level of education. Education not only provides basic knowledge and skills to improve health and Iivelihood, but it empowers women to take their rightful place in society and the development process (Fasokun 2000).
Entrepreneurial education seems to be the major key policy to promote entrepreneurship development for women in Nigeria. Entrepreneurship education should be inculcated into school curriculum at all levels. Research indicates that Small and Medium Enterprise Industrial Empowerment Scheme (SMEIES) operators ranked the reasons for failure of entrepreneurs’ application for loans and came up with reasons that range from bad feasibility studies, poor management skills, lack of proper accounting, poor character checks and attitudes among others. All these are challenges that can be remedied by entrepreneurship education. Even as the 93 approved Nigerian universities have adopted entrepreneurial studies, funds and the dearth of teachers to train the students has remained an obstacle.
A number of current training centers/programs are urban-based, for example, the Industrial Development Centers established in the 1960s are urban-based. Small Medium Entrepreneurial Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) aimed at facilitating credit, technology markets, capacity building, training and technical support for SMEs and provide adequate linkage with women bodies is urban-based and starved of funds. Agribusiness is rural-based and better educated farmers are more likely to adopt new technologies and have access to credit and extension services (Adereti, 2000).
Many women, due to lack of exposure and financial limitations, still make use of old technology in farming, processing and preservation thus leading to drudgery and low output.
4) Cultural Restrictions/Weak Land Rights:
The Nigerian culture cannot be described as being gender friendly. For example, the “Kule” policy in the North where married women are forbidden from going out of the house in daylight for business is an initiative/development-killer policy that should be discouraged in this 21st Century. In Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, where women have prime responsibility for food production, they are generally limited to user rights to land and subject to the consent of a male relative (FAO, 1982). Culture and social practices discriminate against women to be enterprise successors/inheritors or own independent assets which could easily serve as collaterals. Such unequal land rights are reflected in the smaller land sizes of women farmers thus limiting them economically.
5) Lack of Equipment and Appropriate Technology
Despite women’s extensive and varied participation in agriculture, they continue to have less access to modern agriculture inputs. Consequently, women agro-entrepreneurs work under very difficult and laborious conditions, using crude traditional technology. Technology is closely related to finance and education. Nigerian women entrepreneurs, especially in agriculture, work under very difficult and laborious conditions, using crude traditional technology. There is urgent need for provision of modern, cost effective and affordable technologies for the use of women.
Moreover, some new technology has often been inappropriate to women’s needs. There is a need to define some priority actions to promote the role of women in the economy because it has been showed that women are productive and efficient when they have access to the right technologies and opportunities.
6) Erroneous Ideas about Women and Credit
There are certain myths about women in respect to credit which have made them to remain poor and limited their entrepreneurial prospects. One of such myths is that poor women make poor credit risks. This is being proved wrong as Olutunla (2008) reported that Nigerian women have been found to be more faithful in terms of loan repayment to Banks than men.
7) Entrepreneurial Attitude
According to Akpa (2007), an average entrepreneur is rugged and aggressive. These are common attributes of men while most women are of the gentle and kind disposition. Men tend to focus on gettingthe job done while women tend to focus on being more inclusive and relational. If a woman entrepreneur is to succeed, she must adopt some level of ruggedness and aggressiveness. Success is not gender-friendly.
8) Research and Extension Services
For a long time, agronomic researchers do not pay attention to the role of women in the farming system. Research into the activities of women in agriculture is gaining attention only recently. A survey in Ogun State, Nigeria (Elabor-Idemudia, 1991) and Osun State, Nigeria (Ogbimi and Williams, 1999) revealed that Extension Agents visited between 7-10% of women farmers every week compared to 70% of the male farmers who received weekly visits. An FAO (1989) study found government investment on agriculture represented less than half the sector’s contribution to national income, therefore, it is reasonable to guess that women’s access to extension services and training especially in the area of fish farming, processing, packaging, distribution and marketing are unlikely to improve when the overall funding and availability of services is declining.
9) Misplaced Focus
Many agricultural projects and programs are not suited to the special circumstances of women or may not reach women at all, thus truncating the intended effort to increase food production.
10) Market and Marketing
Due to lack of good roads in Nigeria, electricity, poor access to information and poor networking, many farm produce perish thus discouraging women farmers.
Strategies for Women Agro-Entrepreneurship Development
· The complementary policy issues in entrepreneurship education should include increasing women enrolment in schools at all levels especially in the field of agriculture to reduce gender inequality. Budgetary allocation should be made to accommodate more continuing and vocational education.
· More seminars/workshops should be sponsored and extended to rural areas to increase women’s capacity to start and grow their agribusiness, prepare sound business plan/feasibility studies and increase their technical and managerial capacity in agribusiness.
· Modern processing plants/storage facilities should be installed for women groups on government/private joint partnership basis so that women can process and store their farm produce with ease.
· The enabling environment in terms of gender-friendly policies, good roads, pipe-borne water and electricity should be provided by the various arms of government.
· Cooperatives and women groups should be more formally instituted and encouraged among women to position them strategically to access fund and other inputs with ease.
· The Government should mandate the commercial Banks to produce more gender-friendly loan packages (low interest rates and more relaxed duration of repayment).
· Women should be exposed to the latest agro-technology from time to time to remove drudgery in farming, processing and preservation techniques.
· Nigerian women should be encouraged to network more, both at the national and international levels for more exposure, to access fund and export information.
· Agro-extension institutions should be boosted and more women extension agents be trained to reduce women to extension workers ratio and for wider coverage of women agriculturists.
Nigeria’s vision of becoming one of the top twenty leading economies of the world by the year 2020, otherwise known simply as vision 20:20 appears compelling enough to energize its over 150 million people (nearly half of which are women) to make the vision a reality. To accomplish this laudable goal, there is urgent need to pay attention to the development of agro-women entrepreneurs so that they can take their place in family advancement and national economic development. The government and development/change agencies must not only be prepared to recognize the economic role of the women but must also extend to them the same recognition and facilities as the men are enjoying.
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1Adewumi A.A.; 2Mokuolu J.O; and 3Longe O.O.
1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Education, Ikere Ekiti
2Department of Banking and Finance, University of Education, Ikere Ekiti
3Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Education, Ikere Ekiti
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