Women and Animal Traction: Are things really changing?
I was really taken aback when one of Nigeria’s Country Directors of a leading CGIAR unit responded to my question with uttermost bewilderment, “Do women use draught animal?”, he asked with a dismissive authority. At the suggestion of one of my Senior Colleague and Professor, I had come to collaborate with him so I can utilize the Women in Agriculture (WIA) group he was working with. Rightly or wrongly, from this first and singular response, I knew we wouldn’t be working together. He was well versed than I was in agriculture yet does not know the landmark achievements in Eastern and Southern Africa on progress made by women in the use of animal traction technology? How long will it take me to convince a University Professor cum CGIAR leader on the relevance of this technology for field agriculture irrespective of sex? I was really not ready for any intellectual debate: my Borlaug Fellowship at the University of Florida and IITA, Tanzania meant I was starting behind schedule and I needed to move forward as fast as possible. I twisted my objective of visit to suite the discourse. He then intimated me that the WIA he was working with was only a part of a larger WIA and he directed me to the source. After waiting for more than an hour at the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA), I was ushered in to meet the Chairperson of the WIA in the state. She sounded so welcoming and willing to learn. After telling her what my aim was, she replied quite politely and encouraging. “Well,” she said with a rather intuitive and soft tone, “women are adopting new technologies now but there are many constraints against them using the animal traction. No one has even brought this idea, but I believe it is adoptable if we can adapt some things that will aid the adoption of the technology”. As I explained the various stages of entry in our adoption outline, she seemed so keen and excited. “Yes, I can organize women farmers for you”, she exclaimed. I was excited. Progress is been made, I thought, even though the journey had only begun.
Figure 1. Women Farmer Use of Animal Traction in Northern Nigeria. MFP, 2014
There are many reasons while animal traction technology is not seen as fitting for women in Nigerian agriculture. Beyond cultural reasons, the design of animal traction equipment as well as lack of professional training for handling of large animals for this purpose presents a significant constraint to adoption of this technology. To put the cultural reasons in the right context, my expectations were largely confirmed by the Chairperson of Women In Agriculture at KNARDA. “Things are changing”, she said, when I asked of the possibility of relatives allowing their women spend some few days at a training centre for training on the use of animal traction. “They will allow but you have to give a one month notice”, She concluded. That seemed fair to me. Through my collaborations and visitations, one thing is now sure: animal traction usage by women smallholder farmers will be a desirable improvement for the farming families, male farmers inclusive! It is not as if all male farmers have animal traction unit and equipment-they too need assistance, and if this assistance comes through the women folks, so be it. My solace lie in the words of the WIA chairperson, “things are now changing…”
Figure 2. Animal Traction Use in Nigeria: Mid-Season Re-ridging of Maize Farms in Zaria, Nigeria. Courtesy: Author, 2013.
Why we must close the Gender Gap
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) yearly report on The State of Food and Agriculture for 2010-11 focused on Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development. It decried the fact that women consistently have less access than men to the resources and opportunities they need to be more productive while maintaining that women make significant contributions to the rural economy of all developing economies with diverse roles across diverse regions-a conclusion consistent with many reports. Among its important submissions are:
(Source: The Food and Agricultural Organization, 2012.)
It has become common knowledge that in today’s world of over 7 billion inhabitants, almost 1 billion people-1 out of every 7- go to bed hungry every night. The linkage between agricultural productivity, food security and poverty are intrinsic, with their subsequent impacts on a healthy and productive livelihood well documented. It is also common knowledge that about 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas with agriculture as the major preoccupation. Sadly, several statistics point to women and youths in these rural areas as the most vulnerable to food insecurity/poverty yet form a significant percentage of farm labour sources.
In Nigeria, as it is in many developing countries, farm mechanization has generally come to be perceived as the utilization of tractors and other engine powered machines/equipment in carrying out farming activities. This is why several Governments designed agricultural programs like the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), Green Revolution and Food for All programs placed emphasis on tractorization (Ajav, 2000; Ladeinde, 1996). As a result, many authors have opined that the thousands of tractors that were purchased under these programs have either broken down or are unserviceable due to various reasons. The singular factor of cost of purchase and maintenance of a tractor unit is enough to scare away many of the smallholder farmers –a group whose hard work hardly make enough to cater for their family. Although animal traction technology was first introduced by the British in Daura, present day Katsina State in 1922, a select few of the farming population and almost a non-existent women farming population use this technology on their farms.
The Scope of Animal Traction in Nigeria
Nigeria is divided into 36 states and a federal capital territory. Based on the level of usage of animal traction in these states, Ajav (2000) divided each of these states conveniently into four areas of animal traction. These are:
Although this categorization remains largely valid after a decade of publication, isolated places in many of the states in the SATR have animal traction usage similar to that found in the AATR. It is also important to note that over the last decade, through activities of the World Bank sponsored Fadama Agricultural projects, many farmers- primarily male farmers- have benefited from animal traction input, which have also led to an appreciable increase in outlets producing equipment for use in draft animal technology. Also, this form of categorization take ploughing/ridging as the major work a draught animal could do. For the forest region of southern Nigeria, if the question of keeping animals could be addressed, then certainly, draught animals could be used for seeding and fertilizer application, pesticide application and transportation.
Fig 3. Map of Nigeria showing areas of animal traction utilization. (Courtesy: Ajav, 2000).
The Next Steps
The goal is clear; we plan to improve women smallholder farmers’ labour utilization through this program. We believe the avenue for enabling this is also there. A major step is now to identify entry points for women smallholder utilization of animal traction technology and approaching it from those angles. So far, at least five entry points have been identified. Starkey and Mutagubya (1992) described the adopted village extension model used to push for women adoption of animal traction in Tanzania as one of the best approaches.
Ajav E. A. (2000). Animal traction as a source of power for agricultural development in Nigeria In Kaumbutho P G, Pearson R A and Simalenga T E (eds), 2000. Empowering Farmers with Animal Traction. Proceedings of the workshop of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa
Food and Agricultural Organization (2012). The State of Food and Agriculture for 2010-11: Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development.
Ladeinde, M.A. (1996). Animal Traction As An Alternative Source of Power For Agricultural Development. Proceedings of the National Workshop on Appropriate Agricultural Mechanization Practices At the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization Ilorin, Nigeria between 2628 November. pp 184-194.
Starkey, P. and Mutagubya, W. (1992). Animal traction in Tanzania: experience, trends and priorities. Ministry of Agriculture, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.