Women Empowerment through the Village Seed Entrepreneurs (VSEs) Programme in South South and South East, Nigeria

by

Bridget Omosuwa Alegieunu

Globally, women empowerment and entrepreneurship issues have been key factors in the development process, specifically whenr there is reference to poverty alleviation. However, efforts at empowering women have encountered setbacks both at the theoretical and empirical levels particularly due to the seeming vagueness in the definition and analysis of the word “empowerment” (Swain & Wallentin, 2008).  Empowerment has different meanings in different socio-cultural and political contexts.  In its broadest sense, empowerment is the expansion of freedom of choices and action. Such choices could be economic in nature, where people are provided with the opportunity to engage in professions that they desire. In terms of national economic growth, women involvement in agriculture contributes positively to the growth and development of a country’s GDP. From the foregoing, my focus in subsequent sections will be a discussion around the attempt at women empowerment in the agricultural sector in the South South and South East Regions of Nigeria

In Nigeria, a significant deficit in food production resulted in food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly for poor and vulnerable households. In the agricultrual sector, a nation-wide shortage of certified high-quality seeds is one of the main obstacles preventing farmers from increasing their level of production. To address the huge gap between the demand and supply of certified seeds as a way of solving the problem of this shortage, scientists have introduced Village Seed Enterprises (VSEs). The ‘Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System’ (BASICS) is part of this initiative. It aims at contributing to empower and sustain seed system in Nigeria. Its major target is to strengthen all components of the cassava value chain and seeks to empower village farmers to increase productivity and income. The program supplies farmers with high quality planting materials of new, improved and/ or existing varieties produced from certified basics seeds. Hence, the empowerment and social structure of the VSE is focused on initiating improved production and economic viability for more women.

The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of Village Seed Enterpreneurs on women empowerment and social capital development in South-East and South-South region in Nigeria. The general objective was therefore to assess the production of economic and social capital by the Village Seed Entrepreneurs in the selected rural areas of Abia and Akwa Ibom States. In exploring this, the study considered several household and individual characteristics such as household size, education, age, health, and marital status. Abia and Akwa Ibom States were preferred case studies as locations for the Village Seed Enterprise (VSEs) project due to their climatic conditions and geography that are suitable for agricultural practice in the country.

The methodology used in this research was both quantitative and qualitative. The sampling frame was mainly gender based, narrowed down to women involved in farming, trading, and civil service. . Stratified sampling method was adopted each stratum was sampled as an independent sub-population.  The total number of beneficiaries consulted was 214.  The Abia sample size amounted to 105, which consisted of 30 VSEs and 75 non-VSEs. While a total number of 109 were engaged in Akwa Ibom including 54 VSEs and 55 non-VSEs. Types of data collected include socio-economic data, women empowerment, and information on the village seed entrepreneurs (VSEs). Both secondary and primary data were used in this

Women in Abia and Akwa Ibom States come across as zealous individuals who were determined to support their families through faming. They maintained that investment in agriculture is lucrative and also affords them enough time to cater for their families with neglecting them According to the women, their economic independence due to the program accords them societal respect and dignity. It has also helped to foster community building and increase in income within families in their various communities. The women also testified that there is a significance difference between the income of the women entrepreneurs before and after the VSEs initiative. This effect has led to significant changes in their economic capital as they can now save more from their income, belong to cooperative societies, and support their families by paying their children’s school fees and taking care of other basic household needs. The positive effect of the empowerment level has also provided them with access to land, credit facilities, and ownership of properties. Through the trainings from the VSE program, they are also able to better make general decisions on entrepreneurship regarding their businesses. The VSEs, however, face a number of challenges, the most significant of which is the instability in the price of cassava stems in the market. They are also unable to meet demands due to the inadequate quantity of seeds resulting from high transportation costs. There are also infrastructural challenges due to bad road networks along their farm routes, as well as the lack of agricultural facilities such as tractors and fertilizer to ensure mass production.

Since Village Seed Entrepreneurs project is a model that seeks to empower female village level farmers to increase productivity and income, it is recommended that the government help create structures and institutions for this initiative to thrive. This can be achieved through collaborations with development partners within the frame of public-private partnerships that will ensure better access to inputs for production of certified seeds, provide better access to credit and financial services for women, and increase revenues from certified seed production and village seed enterprises. The government could also support the farmers regarding land acquisition as some of the women still do not have access to land in their communities. This is because the more access the women have to land, the better their chances for increased productivity. Finally, more farmers should be encouraged to plant improved varieties of cassava seed to ensure increased productivity since improved seeds are disease-free. This will have a ripple effect on the Nigerian economy as improved income from the increased productivity will provide more liquidity that would benefit other sectors.

Bridget Omosuwa Alegieunu is a graduate student of the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Ibadan.