How Nigerian Women Fight Poverty, Empower Selves

By Yekeen Nurudeen

Women in Daika village in Panyam District of Mangu Local Government of Plateau State have literally taken their destinies in their hands. And it appears to be paying off.

Driven by a local ideology they called “Yaghal Kyen” in their local dialect, which means, “we must achieve something at the end”, the women through a Village Savings and Loans Association, VSLA, have been helping themselves with loans and social welfare funds to buy land, access farm inputs, cultivate land and also pay their children’s school fees.

Daika, over 50 kilometers away from Jos, the Capital of Plateau State, is an agrarian community that has two commercial banks and four microfinance banks. But as with most commercial banks in the country, getting a loan from the banks to support small businesses is a serious challenge for the rural women whose life revolves around farming and taking care of their families.

Tongdyen Damwesh, 50, a mother of six said obtaining a loan from any of the banks is an herculean task for rural women due to long complicated processes. She particularly said the cutthroat interest rate is also discouraging.

Though a farmer of staple foods such as Irish potato, maize and vegetables, life has never been a bed of roses for Damwesh. She had always lived from hand to mouth and often struggles to pay her children’s school fees, two of whom are in tertiary institutions.

Three years after being part of the VSLA scheme, she is giving testimonies of how the new rural financing initiative has impacted on her life.

“VSLA has helped me. Before, to pay my children’s school fees was difficult. But with this loan, I was able to pay their school fees. By the end of last year, I got about N50,000 which is money I have never held with my hand before. It really surprised me” said Damwesh.

She added that quite a number of rural women farmers have benefited from the loan to expand their farms, renovate their houses or pay their children’s school fees.

“I have already bought my fertilizer now because of this group. I took loan to buy the fertilizer and when I sell my maize I will have the money to pay back the loan. Everyone in the group has benefited from the loan, some have expanded their farms, some renovated their houses, and some paid their children’s school fees,” she said.

Damwesh is one of the 25 rural women in Yaghal Kyen group who have found a way to finance their farming activities under the new initiative, VSLA.

Farmers cooperative in plateau stat
Members of Yaghal Kyen Group in Daika Village, Plateau State


The initiative is a brainchild of Oxfam, an international organization that is committed to promoting economic justice and improving livelihoods as well as gender justice and female leadership.

William Mafwalal – Livelihood and Private Sector Manager, Oxfam Nigeria said that VSLA is a unique model of increasing access to finance in rural communities and “empowering them socially and economically.”

Due to the feasibility and benefits of the scheme it is becoming imperative that governments and the general public be aware of the scheme as more communities adopt it to solve their financial challenges and other issues, he said.

Help For Women Farmers

In a country where governments at the federal and state levels are allocating just 1.8 percent of their annual budget to agriculture, the VSLA initiative has already opened a new vista of hope for women farmers in rural areas in five Nigerian Northern states.

Farmers, particularly small holders have knocked government for not allocating enough resources to the agricultural sector despite its critical role in food security and economic development.

Nigeria was part of what the declaration where heads of African countries agreed to allocate 10 percent of their annual budget to agriculture and achieve six percent annual growth in agricultural GDP.

The declaration was first signed in Maputo in 2003 as Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, CAADP, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo during the meeting of Heads of State in Mozambique.

It was later reviewed and signed again in 2014 by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.  The agreement has remained only on paper for the Nigerian government.  Its past and present budgetary allocations to the sector are far below what the declaration stipulates.

In 2017, the federal and state governments will spend less than two percent of their N13.5 trillion total budgets on agriculture despite their publicized commitment to the sector. Analysis of the 2017 combined expenditure of the federal and 30 state governments shows that they will spend N254 billion (1.8 percent) on agriculture.

About half of these figures would be expended on running the bureaucracies of the agriculture ministries and their related agencies of forestry, rural development and water resources, among others.

This is happening at a time the government’s much trumpeted determination to diversify the economy away from oil to agriculture as the mainstay of the economy.

But, rural women farmers in Adamawa, Benue, Nasarawa, Kebbi and Plateau states are not allowing the poor funding of agriculture by government to stop their dreams. They have success stories to tell on financing agriculture without help from government.

How Nigerian Women Fight Poverty, Empower Selves
Members Kolere Women group

Our reporter who visited some of these states found out that some women have raised money on their own to buy land while some of them rent their farmlands using the loan they take from the association.

I borrowed N20, 000 to dig borehole on my farm to do the dry season farming,” said Benedict Grace, a member of VSLA Kolere Women Group in Ribadu village, Fufore Local Government of Adamawa State.

VSLA in Ribadu Village is just five months old, but Grace, originally from Benue state, happily revealed that the association had taught the women how to organize themselves, raise money on their own and use it for themselves.

Cultivating rice on one hectare of land, the mother of four, expressed the desire to expand her farm to three hectares in the coming year.

“My farm is doing well by the grace of God and next year I will open more farms. Before now, I used to struggle to get money to buy fertilizer and even do the real farm work and pay my children’s school fees. But now I have more farms from where I can pay my children’s school fees” she said

Umar Hajara, like Grace, is a member of Kolere Women Group in Ribadu village. She buys and sells goats. Her business wasn’t booming until she secured a loan of N10, 000 from the VSLA.

“I took a loan of N10, 000 and bought two goats at N5,000 each and sold them at N7000 each”.

This is besides having access to seven bags of fertilizer through the group which she used for her dry season farming of vegetables and rice.

In her case, Hajia Lami Bappa, also a member of the group in the same village, recalled how she got a loan of N5,000, with which she bought 25 day-old broilers at the rate of N200 each.

“I reared them for four weeks and sold them at N550 each and made a profit of N350 on each one of them” she said.

The story is not different for Hajia Nana Sani who lives in faraway Nafori community, a Fulani settlement off Fufore Local Government headquarters, also in Adamawa State.

Hajia Nana Sani got fertiliser on credit from Alhamdu Group
Amina Alli, chairperson Kolere group, says VSLA helps them to realise their potentials

Though she is just one of the only four women among 21 men that formed the Alhamdu Group, which means “we are grateful”, the coming of VSLA to the settlement, which has no electricity or any other social infrastructure except a public borehole, has touched their lives.

Old age and long distance have stopped her from going to the market where she used to sell fresh cow milk; she now concentrates on rearing local breeds of poultry and rice farming.

Nana, who spoke to our reporter through an interpreter, said she was able to get a bag of fertilizer through VSLA at affordable price. But she is particularly full of praise for the initiative which she said created an opportunity for her to save money and also borrow at will.

In Gella village, Mubi South East Local Government, Adamawa State where insurgency has destroyed the means of livelihood of the villagers, VSLA has come to their rescue. Displaced villagers who are just returning to the village after the restoration of normalcy are taking advantage of the initiative to get their lives back on track.

Women in the village had already borrowed over N120, 000 from the VSLA to start small businesses such as soap making.

“When I saw cartons of soaps I was impressed. The insurgents took over that place and there was a lot of poverty. We started the scheme there, as at the last time, they have saved N127, 000. The women have borrowed all the money. They had only N700 remaining in the box” said Theophilus Raymond, Programme Officer at Oxfam office in Adamawa State.

The inclusion of men in some of the group, gathered was to sensitize them to appreciate the value of giving women land.

“ For those that have men in the groups, we see it as an opportunity to chip in gender issues into the men and then to see how women who are in the groups are utilizing what they are getting from the groups and they themselves feel the need to empower women because they have seen what is happening” Raymond said.

Platform to access farm inputs

With about 1,010 groups already formed in the five northern states comprising of 22,925 members and many more waiting to be inaugurated, the Village Saving and Loan Association, has become a veritable platform for rural farmers to access quality inputs and loans.

Members of Himma Group in Fufore Local Government, Adamawa state
Members of Himma Group in Fufore Local Government, Adamawa state

According to Patrick Igbana, State Livelihood Programme Coordinator for EU/Oxfam PROACT Project in Adamawa State, the saving and loan association was introduced in Adamawa state in November 2016 as part of the PROACT project, which supports food security and resilience in Northern Nigeria.

“These farmers don’t need big money for their businesses. Now they have the money within themselves, we are not introducing any money from outside. It is from their contributions. The money is changing lives because they just need the necessities of life” he said

What our reporter who visited some of the villages saw and heard corroborated this claim.

For instance, farmers in Dasin Hausa in Fufore Local Government, Adamawa State, the largest dry season farming community in the local government, are already counting their blessings even when they are yet to harvest their produce.  Farmers in the community, men and women, cultivate vegetables but are at the moment embarking on dry season rice farming using inputs they accessed via the VSLA from Oxfam.

“Now we have been doing dry season rice farming. It will boost our economy and reduce poverty in our country “said Umar Inuwa, Chairman of Himma group, comprising of 25 men, all farmers.

“We are just six weeks old as a group but we have contributed N117, 190 and we already have 300 bags of fertilizer; 200 bags of NPK and 100 bags of Urea at N7,500 and N6,950 each” he added.

A bag of NPK fertilizer in the market costs N8,000 while Urea is sold for N9, 200. “As a farmer I can produce like 100 bags of rice in a season unlike 30 bags that I used to produce when I didn’t have access to these inputs”

Inuwa and his members also received 25 units of pumping machines from Oxfam at the rate of N55,000 as against N70,000 which is the market price.

Amina Alli, chairperson Kolere group, says VSLA helps them to realise their potentials
Asabe Philibus on her farm

He revealed that while the group did not pay for the inputs from the contribution as it is too early to touch that, each member was tasked so that they could make 10 percent part payment for the inputs.

“Before now, we were suffering because, as poor farmers, we cannot go to market and buy ten bags of fertilizer or water pump. But since we formed this group with the help of Oxfam, we have been benefiting” he said.

Also giving testimonies, Muazu Minjiyawa, a rice farmer and member of Himma group, lamented that efforts in the past to get fertilizer from the state government yielded no result stressing that they waited for a year without getting anything.

“Fertilizer distribution from government is usually politicized and also expensive which hardly get to us” a happy Minjiyawa said while praising the Field Officer of Oxfam for facilitated the formation of the group.

In Plateau state, life is also changing for men and women farmers in Panyam District of Mangu Local Government after joining the VSLA.

After an initial hesitation due to past experiences, Dasdum Mangbweng, 30 who now heads a group known as “Poret in Fwangko” confirmed that farming has been made easy for him and members of the group.

An Irish potato farmer, besides learning to save his earnings from his farming business, Mangbweng says he is able to secure fertilizer for his farm and also has money to hire labour to work on the farm.  His story and those of others in the group have already inspired many young men to express desire to be part of a similar group.

Farmers cooperative in plateau state1
Nanlop Nanswang on her farm

For Nanlop Nanswang, also a member of the Poret group, she was able to get a loan from her savings with the association to buy fertilizer for her vegetable farm.

“I sell my maize to pay labour who worked on the farm for me and I also took loan to buy fertilizer. I also paid my children’s school fees”, said Nanlop who is a mother of five.

But the farmers are also linked to the market without the interference of middlemen.  According to Igbana, part of the project is to ensure that the farmers buy inputs from organized market and also sell at the organized market.

He says his office is using the VSLA project to help farmers to get linked to the market directly without the middlemen. One of the problems facing farmers, he says, is getting buyers for the produce at the right price.

“We have signed a MoU with three big companies; Guinness Nigeria Limited, ACIER and AFEX who are big time up takers. They buy from farmers directly; what we want to achieve is when these farmers produce, they put them together and are big enough for big time buyers who buy at better prices” he said

In Plateau State where VSLA is coordinated by the Church of Christ in Nations Development Programme, CCDP, farmers have already been linked with Notore, a fertilizer manufacturing company, to purchase the input in bulk and at control price. So far, they have ordered about three trucks this year alone.

Many of the women in the groups have borrowed money to expand and diversify their businesses which result in increase income and resilience to shocks.

Josiah Mahwash, CCDP Project Officer, says the linkage that was facilitated by Oxfam has also solved the problem of adulteration of fertilizer.  There are over 200 of such groups in Plateau State already.

How VSLA works

Oxfam Nigeria works with partners such as Nigerian Association of Nigerian Women (NAWIA), Benue; COCIN Community Development Programme (CCDP), Plateau; Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), Nasarawa; Development Exchange Centre (DEC) Kebbi; and Adamawa Christian Rural Development and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) to implement the VSLA initiatives in 25 local government areas of states.

Fulani women who are members of Alhamdu Group in Nafori Community in Fufore Local Government, Adamawa state
Fulani women who are members of Alhamdu Group in Nafori Community in Fufore Local Government, Adamawa state

The VSLAs are self-selected and self-managed community-based groups comprising a minimum of 15 and maximum of 25 individuals who meet regularly, either weekly or fortnightly, to save and, if desired, borrow for short periods, paying monthly interest at a rate set by the group.

    After approximately 12 months, all savings and earnings are distributed back to group members. The earnings usually are distributed in proportion to their savings with the interest margin of five to 10 threshold payable annually by the loan beneficiaries.

    Unlike in Adamawa State, VSLA is three year old in Plateau and that has  led to the creation of over 200 groups already.

    The VSLA initiative for sustainable and profitable farming, is a project that targets at least 160,000 individuals or about 6500 groups by 2020.

    Aside helping communities meet their basic financial needs, the project is expected to significantly improved community cohesion and active citizenship. It is also given women,who hitherto had no voice or engage in community governance, are increasingly becoming more vocal vocal and confident.

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