Photo: Copyright VSO/Emma Judge. A woman farming.
The VSO-Accenture volunteer helping Nigerian female farmers improve their livelihoods
“My role will, I believe, lead to greater efficiency and fewer challenges for those working in agriculture in Nigeria’ s Nassarawa State, Plateau State and Kaduna State.
As a Knowledge Share Manager for VSO Nigeria, my job is part of the VSO secure livelihoods program, Making Markets Work for the Poor. This program aims to improve access to and participation in markets for poor and marginalised people by implementing better market development approaches. It’s part of Accenture’s Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship initiative, which aims to equip 500,000 people around the world with the skills to get a job or build a business.
On a basic level I tell people that my job is about helping the right people get the right information at the right time. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. Sharing knowledge, passing information and facilitating conversations between stakeholders working in the agricultural sector in West Africa is a means to an end, not the end itself.
I grew up in a large family in Wisconsin and Illinois. Giving time to support people in the community was always a part of my childhood and continued throughout my years at Clark Atlanta University where I studied International Business and Marketing. In fact, my mother would often say, “if you’re in my house, you’re volunteering”.
After seven years working for Accenture and with a continued desire to give back and make a difference, I signed up to do a volunteer placement with VSO. Three months later I was in Abuja, Nigeria.
Six months after arriving in this vibrant city, I am helping to ensure people in rural communities with little access to information, technology and other resources can learn and share best agricultural practice with others across the West African region.
One example of where we expect to have an impact is the work we are doing with communities in Nigeria’s Nassarawa State, Plateau State and Kaduna State. Conversations with local community organisations in these areas revealed the challenges local farmers face in accessing fertiliser, a product that plays a crucial role in agricultural productivity.
The fertiliser is sold by the state and is only available to registered farmers (those who own or have legal access to land).Consequently it is not easily accessed by smallholder farmers, especially women, who are five times less likely to own land than men, yet make up 60 percent of the rural workforce. Exacerbating this is that fertiliser sold by the state comes in large expensive quantities and the complex ordering system means a delay between order and delivery – further obstacles to the farmers who don’t have the income or the storage capacity to buy bulk.
In a country like Nigeria, with a large rural community living in poverty and reliant on farming, the consequences for those who fail to obtain fertiliser can be devastating.
Our solution was simple. We realised that if we offered smaller and cheaper bags of fertiliser, we could improve the outcomes of local organisations, communities and female smallholder farmers.
We approached a private sector company and secured a deal to enable local organisations to buy the fertiliser direct at wholesale prices. They then sell on the fertiliser for a modest profit to a select group of community volunteers. The volunteers then sell small bags of fertiliser directly to the excluded smallholder farmers.
Not only does the smallholder farmer get a less expensive bag of high quality fertiliser as and when they need it, but the profits local organisations make can help them raise crucial funds. In addition, the private sector company is reaching a rural market they may have otherwise not been able to access.
More importantly, our female smallholder farmers have a chance to create an agribusiness that can successfully sustain their families.
To mark International Women’s Day, VSO Nigeria and our local Oxfam partner will recognize a small-scale female farmer with an annual award, the Female Food Hero Award. Last year’s winner had the opportunity to visit the US, attending an event at Google and visiting farms which helped her bring invaluable learning back to her community. I can’t think of a better way to share knowledge."
 British Council/DFID (2012): Gender in Nigeria Report 2012: Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria
 VSO Nigeria promotes long-term sustainable agriculture and encourages the use of local sources for fertiliser, such as animal waste, but for these small farmers desperate to increase productivity, this was not an option.
This blog is part of a one-week International Women's Day Special, brought to you in partnership with VSO to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March.
VSO is an international development organisation which works through volunteers to tackle poverty in 33 of the world’s poorest countries. VSO is currently campaigning for the post-2015 development agenda to commit to tackling gender inequality. For more information visit: www.vso.org.uk/about/working-in-partnership/corporate-partnerships
Skills to Succeed is Accenture’s global corporate citizenship initiative, which focuses on advancing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in both mature and emerging markets. By 2015, the company is committed to equipping 500,000 people around the world with the skills to get a job or build a business. For more information, click here.