Women need access to productive assets – Ode

Dr. Adiya Ode is the Team Leader for Propcom+ at Palladium International Development Limited. She is at the forefront of an agriculture and climate change program funded by the UK-FCDO. In this interview, she speaks to ENE OSHABA on gender perspectives in agricultural businesses and advocates for reassessment of land tenure systems and improved access for finance and land for women in agribusiness, among others.

You have background in veterinary medicine at what point did you transition to agricultural economics?

I wish I had an inspiring story to tell about my journey into agriculture. Of course, from the course I read, but we are Nigerians and we know the JAMB stories.

My original choice was architecture. I wanted to be an architect but unfortunately, I didn’t have the score in physics that I needed to read architecture.

I was determined to go to school but on top of that, I had chosen University of Jos as my first choice, but here I was in ABU trying to get into Architecture and they said only Faculties of Engineering and Vet Medicine consider second choice candidates, so you have a choice. Without physics, I couldn’t read engineering so I went to Vet Medicine and I had the necessary scores total for admission.

So, I was admitted into vet medicine. And my thought then was, let me just hang in there for a year and next year, I’ll be gone. However, once you have started it’s hard to let go and with Vet Medicine that one year was like passing through a storm. Having weathered that storm and you also bonded with classmates you know, and they really turned me into the veterinary student and I didn’t even make any effort to leave. After that I stayed.

So, that’s how I started that journey. But even while I was in Vet Medicine I loved the practice of medicine, and I mean, I took a lot of joy from seeing animals get healthy, after you treat them. Incidentally, I was also a prize winner for the clinicals. I was the best student in the clinics.

I never really took to the practice because from my internships it made me so sad when you treat a dog and someone just grabs the dog from the back of his house and drags it in. You can see that it’s not living the best life and you treat it knowing that it’s going back to the dog’s life.

So, I took a course called livestock economics. It was like something popped in my mind when I was in the course. And I thought, wow, I love this. I want to be on that side.

We also had courses in policy, livestock policy, and I was like, wow, I want to be in the middle where you can take decisions that affect the profession that affects something that’s always a driving factor for me. I moved and somehow found myself working in the federal ministry of agriculture, in livestock planning.

You have evolved so beautifully in a male dominated profession. Did you face challenges?

Indeed, they were challenges, but you know, the thing is, I come from a family of girls. My mother has five girls and my father raised us not to think that we were girls, but just to know that we were children and so I have never seen myself as just a girl.

So, when I found myself in Vet Medicine, we were class, I think ‘88, and there were six girls in my class but were five girls who graduated. So, there were boys all around but I didn’t see them as more able than me.

The girls used to wear the coverall and boots like the boys and go into the bushes, follow the cows to vaccinate them.

I came from a place where when things need to be done and I just get it done, that is not to say that there are no differences between the sexes but I think the watchword for me is equity; let’s make the disadvantaged able to compete equally and that has guided me in life and profession.

We make rules but we have to recognise that not everyone is operating at the same level and not everyone is coming with equal skills and capabilities so we have to make provision for those who are disadvantaged to meet up and be able to compete equally. So, my experience in life has been a guide.

Can you share some key insights you gained over the years on inclusion and how it influences the work you do?

Going back in time, one of the first recognitions for me that women are special and special attention has to be paid to them.

The Beijing Conference opened up people’s eyes worldwide to the fact that women have rights as people and we have to make sure that they can access and activate those rights.

Taking back to Mariam Babangida and the better life programme was the first recognition for me to the fact that yes women are disadvantaged but we shouldn’t leave them at that disadvantaged position. We should try to level the playing field for women and that has inspired me in the course of my work in agriculture, where you find that most farm labour is carried out by women but they don’t own the assets. So, women labour but do not own the money that comes out of the labour.

Even just driving around the country you will see legions of women on the farm and it’s either the husband’s or fathers farm or brothers farm, they don’t have those assets and it’s such a pain.

If we are able to ensure that the woman who works should have some control over the income from that work, that’s something that pushes me.

I remember there was a move for women to get access to microloans, so many women embraced this but it underscores the fact that women don’t have access to productive assets.

You want to get a loan and they will ask for your husband, that is exclusion because you can’t make a decision about investment without your husband having a say in that decision. We have to tear down some of those barriers to women’s economic growth.

I worked on a programme where I consulted and my NGO implemented a programme with Christian Aid where we developed a tool that was used to improve the space for women to participate in decision making.

So, that tool helped that community to consult with women to ensure that they are not losing sight of women on decision making in the community. This tool was implemented in Anambra state where we found women making decisions about community issues to the point that if schools are not working properly the women go to the local authorities to campaign that the school be put in order for their children and it gets fixed. So, we have to put in place in our communities that space where women can talk.

Has your background in agricultural economics influenced your approach to governance and gender issues?

Agriculture economics is for communities and societies where agriculture is the key factor of our life, it gives us insight into the functioning of those societies and the economic base of the society. Most rural Nigerians derive the most significant portion of their livelihoods from agriculture. So, it is important in the society.

How would you assess 35% affirmative action in Nigeria, especially in the agricultural space?

Truth is, the governance space seems to sit somewhere and agriculture seats somewhere else. If we have committed 35 per cent then we should apply it to public schemes for agriculture. So, there should be access to land, finance, rights that women should have.

The biggest challenge for women in agriculture is access to finance, access to land. Traditionally, women are excluded from land ownership and inheritance in many of our societies and that limits their access to land which is the key factor of production and so it confines them to agricultural labour with no control over decisions such as; how long will a woman utilise the land she is farming on?

They cannot predict decisions on what to farm or crop rotation to maintain the land fertility.

We talk about agricultural finance, how many rural women can walk into a bank to ask for a loan, they don’t even have bank accounts.

All the training by SMEDAN, how many women can make the decision that for four days this week I’m not going to work on my farm, I am going for training. What happens to the farm, the children and her husband in those four days? So, there is still a lot to be done and we still have so far a distance to travel.

What strategies of reform initiatives would you recommend for gender equity in agric business?

One of the things I think is critical is not to treat the population as homogeneous but to understand that there are peculiarities in different populations and to ensure that whatever we put in place is something that takes into consideration those peculiarities.

Our land tenure systems have to consider the role of women starting from, if a woman needs land to farm, how does she apply for that land? Where does she get the land? The land tenure systems have to be revisited and they have to be special provision for people who have been excluded in the past.

Your advocacy for women in agribusiness and other spheres of economic life are the same reasons for championing the

What’s your take on how the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill at the National Assembly has been handled so far?

On the gender bills I’m happy to see that for some communities and states and also within the judiciary there have been some recent judgments that are chipping away some of these blockages and women being able to inherit land. If they are unable to inherit land then they are dispossessed. We have to revisit cultural practices that disinherit and exclude women.

It is not enough to say that we are going to improve access to finances, we have to level the playing field for women to be able to access that finance and both government and private sectors should know this.

Women are industrious, they are economic agents and not just beneficiaries of microcredit, they are economic agents so let’s put together loan/credit products that speak to the sort of assets that women have and can use to access the finance.

Maybe a young woman of 26 wants to start a business. She doesn’t have a house to use as collateral, think about it? She doesn’t have a house or car, but she is a graduate and has a certificate, can’t you use that instead? So, let us use things that women have as collateral and let us make the space for them to be able to do business.

I know that women are not as good at negotiating as men, they may not be tough hustlers like the men so let us make the space for them and also, we have to talk about the kind of harassment that women face and put in place strategies to ensure that they are not subjected to those harassment.

Climate change and changes in food prices in some of the crops like millet, which is not in the hierarchy of crops but traditionally women’s crops become more valuable and we found that men start moving there and excluding women.

So, we are working to ensure that women are not excluded but they should benefit from the gains in the areas that are traditionally theirs but we also not regard spaces as traditional women’s spaces and confine ourselves to that space.

Nothing stops a woman from being a transporter making a big business out of logistics, like transporting yams for instance. These are not traditional women’s areas but we want women to go into new areas to exploit market opportunities to be able to take advantage of market opportunities in areas that were traditionally closed to them.

We have women farming vegetables but they see it as something for their families but a women’s cooperative can make big business from vegetables and we want to encourage that.

We want to encourage women to occupy themselves with activities that will lead to big business.

Women don’t own lands, is there hope for change and what can be done to ensure that women have equal rights to land like the men?

The land is vested in the state governments to be held in trust. If you want land you have to go and apply and pass through the eye of a needle to get it.

Why can’t we have land that women can farm? There are many young women farmers now. If we have women farmers, we can provide land for them to farm. We have states like Jigawa state, that’s doing cluster farming. So, can we have a large expanse of land that will be allocated to women as their farmland?

Now, this would make some people ask what happens to the land that we’re farming before. So, this is the point where their labour will now be valued. They were farming before as free labour. Can we value that labour and see what it takes to replace that free labour? You and I know that they can find the space for that. But beyond this, we have to test and push against those cultural systems that disenfranchise and dispossess women.

I know for a fact some cultures are better because in some areas, women can own land. In my mother’s village I have access to land which is very interesting.

We have to push the envelope on those systems that disenfranchise women. So, if we know that a woman has been dispossessed, we should work towards improving their lives.

You were the national team lead for the partnership to engage, inform and learn under the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office. Could you share your experience?

That was a very exciting time for me. Because some of the things that we dealt with were issues that affect everyday life, issues around education. Issues around universal health access; ensuring that women have access to health care. Campaigning for the States House of Assembly autonomy, campaigning for local government autonomy, which for me was very critical to ensure that the level at which accountability lies is the level at which services are delivered. So, that was interesting working with civil society organisations (CSOs) and women were a key force amongst these organisations that were competing for some of these rights.

What advice would you give to young professionals who are aspiring to make a difference in governance and gender policy?

One thing I would say to them is that it is achievable if you only do it. I’ve learnt that the will to do something is all that is needed. If you have that will as you go out you will find others who are like minded. You will find others who want to do something about things you want to effect change, who don’t want things to remain the same and you can work together.

Not much is achieved if you work alone and that is one thing young professionals should realise. Working together, partnerships, owning businesses together. When I was in business school, I learnt that many successful businesses are started by three people who bring different skills and support each other, and it’s a lonely thing to struggle alone. I think working together is a very good idea. I always advise people to work in partnerships, seek partnerships, seek mentorship where it exists.