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Women in Borno reclaiming livelihoods through tomato processing

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THE insecurity ravaging Northern Nigeria has led to the loss of lives and livelihoods for residents of many states in the region, including Borno. However, despite the volatile nature of the region, many women are taking advantage of available opportunities to create alternative means of survival.

Forty-three-year-old Aishatu Sani, who resides in Biu Local Government Area, Borno State, lost her husband to terror attacks four years ago. Since his demise, She has shouldered the responsibility of fending for their seven children alone.

“When my husband died, I suffered. He died at the peak of the insurgency. Life has been hard for me, especially meeting the needs of my children,” Sani said.

She tried to make ends meet with the meagre earnings from farm work, but  terrorism in Borno State worsened their living conditions as she no longer had access to her farmland.

This has made her largely dependent on the goodwill of others to feed her large family.

Aishatu Sani

Like Sani, many other women in Borno state also engage in farming to survive. But with the rising spate of insecurity, they too have lost their farmlands and means of livelihood, leading to untold hardships for them and their dependent family members.

They are, however, finding their feet through the tomato processing project organised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Children bear the brunt

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While it was difficult to provide food for her children, taking care of their education was more arduous for Sani.

She told The ICIR that despite her efforts, she alone could not deal with the responsibility of their education and one after the other, she began to withdraw them from school.

“Since my husband died, I’ve been through a lot. My children have stopped schooling because I cannot afford to send them all to school. Things were a bit better when he was alive but now, they are not,” she said.

Children mainly bear the brunt of insecurity in Nigeria, as they are exposed to poverty, malnutrition, and in most cases, lack access to basic education.

While many schools have been shut down due to terror attacks, children have also been forced to quit school for lack of funds. This has contributed largely to the country’s surging number of out-of-school children.

Nigeria currently has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest number globally, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Another resident of Biu, Aisha Haruna, told The ICIR that she lost her means of sustenance a long time ago and as a result, her children like many others in the region, cannot attend school.

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But for Sani, Haruna, and almost a hundred other women struggling with the effect of terrorism in Borno, the FAO tomato processing project has presented an alternative means of survival.

Ray of hope

The FAO had begun an intervention programme in tomato processing to restore women’s livelihoods affected by insecurity in the region.

For three months, 100 women were trained on the production of tomato paste, jam, tomato juice and ketchup at a small scale facility set up in the Biu Local Government Area of Borno.

Aisha Haruna

With support from the European Union (EU), United Nations Women (UN Women) and the World Food Programme(WFP), the FAO embarked on the scheme to empower women who are survivors of insecurity in the region and end rural poverty in the region.

The Head of FAO Northeast office, Al Hassan Cissie, said in a statement that the training programmes by the organisation are targeted at making beneficiaries become key actors in agricultural development.

“Agri-business is a viable mechanism for addressing rural poverty. We are structuring our response in the region beyond empowering farmers for production, to make them key actors in agro-value chains,” Cissie said.

“This will significantly enhance the sustainability of our development initiatives and promote the resilience of households in the region.”

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The programme was also aimed at boosting recovery efforts in the region and women have taken advantage of the opportunity, describing it as a source of hope.

Sani, who is one of the trainees, expressed gratitude for the opportunity and added that it had given her hope that her children would return to school.

“I hope to do well financially after this training. If God gives me that opportunity, my children will go to school and acquire solid education,” she said.

Some of the finished products

One of the trainees, Umara Kellu, told The ICIR that many women had jumped on the opportunity to learn tomato processing and those who could not enrol, were awaiting similar training.

The mother of nine also said she got involved in the training to afford her children better living conditions.

“It has been very difficult to get by, but this training is changing things for me. If I get enough money, my children’s welfare will get better and I will also have peace of mind,” she said.

Another resident of Biu, Aisha Lawan, told The ICIR that she had no job or skills before the training to make ends meet.

“I had been idle for a long time, that is why I got involved in this training. They have taught us how to make ketchup and jam and I am very grateful,” she said.

Aisha Lawan

Since 2016, the FAO has been implementing agriculture-based emergency responses to the insecurity in Northern Nigeria to provide victims with food and livelihoods.

Beyond restoring the livelihoods of those affected by the conflict, the intervention aimed to combat the impending food insecurity caused by terrorism in Northern Nigeria.

Not without challenges

Despite being a source of hope for women in Borno, the FAO project is not without its own challenges.

A major hindrance to realising the FAO’s goals to restore livelihoods and end food insecurity in the region is the lack of funds.

Though the equipment for tomato processing had been provided by the organisers, women in Borno lack the financial capacity to buy the large quantities of tomatoes required for the business.

Speaking with The ICIR, a beneficiary of the programme, Salamatu Isa said tomatoes being used for the training were crowdfunded by the trainees. She also said she was unsure about starting the business independently as she alone could not afford to raise the capital.

“For now, we are just training and we contribute money among ourselves to buy some things required for this training because there is no capital. I will not start up my own business immediately, because I have no capital for it yet,” she said.

 Umara Kellu told The ICIR that though funds were difficult to come by, she hoped to make money out of the business since the equipment was readily available.

“Right now, we are not making money yet, the money for tomatoes comes from contributions among us. But we are getting there, because all the equipment we use to process the tomatoes are free,” she said.

Some others identified low patronage from public members as an obstacle to the growth of the business.

But many women like Sani are certain that they would achieve great exploits with some financial assistance with the new skills acquired.

“We will do things that will surprise a lot of people. We will do things that will draw attention to this state,” Sani said.

Author profile

'Niyi works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via noyedeji@icirnigeria.org. You can as well follow him on Twitter via @niyi_oyedeji.

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