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The study focused on the role of women in agricultural production in Ibesikpo-Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. Systematic sampling and purposive sampling techniques were used to sample 382 respondents in the study area. Data were collected using questionnaire and Focus Group Discussion (FGD) as major research instruments. Descriptive statistical technique was employed to summarize the data and multiple regression was used to measure the degree of relationship between the socio-economic characteristics of women in agriculture and its influence on their roles in agricultural production. The study found that women in Ibesikpo-Asutan LGA contribute their quota to economic development, household income and food security as revealed by 100% of the respondents. Also, it was revealed by the respondents that lack of awareness on new technologies (47.9%), land holding (67%) and financial constraints (87%) militate against the positive contribution of women farmers to nation building accordingly. Variables such as age (0.005), income (0.000), types of agricultural activities (0.000) and family size (0.002) were shown to positively influence the role women play in agricultural production as confirmed by the regression analysis which were significant at 5% level of significance. However, the Chi-square technique revealed that in harvesting/processing p-values of marital status (0.043), years of farming experience (0.002) and income (0.044) are identified. Also, in marketing/distribution, p-value of age (.000), Educational attainment (.016), years of agricultural experience (.000) and income (.000) are revealed. In weeding p-values of age (.000), marital status (.012), educational attainment (.000), years of agricultural experience (.000) and income (.000) are also revealed. And lastly, in planting the p-values of marital status (.057), educational attainment (.002), years of agricultural experience (.000) and income (.000) were significant at 0.05 alpha level of significant. The study recommends that empowerment of rural women farmers should be prioritized through provision of special agricultural credits and subsidization of farm inputs to optimize their invaluable role in food security, and women farmers should be provided access to financial assistance for their farming activities through formation of cooperative society. The study concludes that women play important roles in ensuring food security. They act as shock absorbers, grow crops, keep animals and spend time to keep the family economic boat afloat. They are into seed sowing, weeding, harvesting, processing, storage, marketing of food produce for the health of the family and the community at large.
BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Agriculture contributes immensely to the Nigerian economy in various ways such as the provision of food for the increasing population, supply of raw materials and a major source of employment, generation of foreign exchange earnings, and provision of a market for the products from the industrial sector (Eze, Ugbochukwu, Eze, Awulonu and Okon, 2010). It has always played an important role in the socio-economic development of developing countries such as Nigeria. Onwualu (2012) had remarked that agriculture remains the dominant sector in the rural areas of Nigeria where over 70% of Nigerians reside. This is true to rural communities in Nigeria.
Onwualu (2012:4) stated that Nigeria was one of the world‘s largest agricultural producers and it is on record that at independence, agriculture contributed up to 60% of the
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in this country. It generated enormous revenue for the development of infrastructural facilities in the defunct Northern, Eastern, and Southern, Western and Mid-Western regions of this country in the early 1960s. Oluwasola (2001) reported that women constitute 49.7 percent of the national population, 60% of world‘s female population with 70% of them in the developing countries, constituting two-fifth of active population in agriculture and majority of them reside in the rural areas where the means of livelihood depends on agro-forestry, soil conservation and exploiting the resources from nature. The activities of rural women in agriculture transcend beyond mere supporting food production but also promoting sustainability of the ecosystems. Historically, women are playing important roles in agriculture with a wide range of activities ranging from production, harvesting, transport, marketing to processing of the products. National Centre for Economic Management and Administration, NCEMA (1991) had highlighted the roles of women in agriculture to include among others: land clearing, crop planting, fertilizer application, weeding/pruning, spraying crops, harvesting, processing, storage, transporting farm produce and marketing of produce but the extent of the involvement of women in each of these agricultural activities varies with different cultures, economic systems and the socioeconomic milieu.
Women have valuable experience and roles in agriculture which according to Pesticide Action Network Asia and Pacific, (PANAP)(2012) the custodian of seed, conservers of biodiversity and being traditional veterinarians. The sustainable production of food is the first pillar of food security as millions of women work as farmers, farm workers and natural resource managers (Onyemobi, 2000). In doing so, they contribute to national agricultural development, maintenance of environment and family food security (Brown, Feidstein, Haadad, Peria and Quisumbing, 2001).
Women produce over 60 percent of the agricultural food in the country (Ogunbameru and Pandy, 1992; Buckland and Haleegoah, 1996). This is evident in some rural societies mostly in the middle-belt and southern parts of Nigeria. Ironkwe and Ekwe (1998) remarked that more than 60% of agricultural activities of women went beyond crop production but also extended to other agricultural activities like fisheries, poultry as well as rearing of sheep and goats. Other works by Mijindadi (1993); Benjamin (1997) and Yahaya (2002) also discussed these multifaceted roles of women in agriculture. Also Buvinie and Mehra (1990) and Oluwasola (2001) are among others concerned with constraints faced by women farmers.
For women in agriculture, one cannot overlook their role in farm decision-making which constitutes an important aspect in agricultural development. Fabiyi, Danladi, Akande and Mahmood (2007) remarked that decisions have to be made when persons having limited resources have alternative causes of action and therefore must make some choices. Farmers make decisions on a number of pre-harvest and post-harvest activities such as what to produce, input to be used, methods of production - all affects production, processing, distribution, prices and costs of production. Despite the significant roles played by women in agricultural production, process and marketing in Nigeria, they have more or less been relegated to playing a secondary role in farm decision-making, (Amaechina, 2002). It was believed that agricultural development is in the decline because agricultural policies have a bias towards inappropriate technology and fail to recognize the role of women as fundamental in agriculture (Adawo, 2001). Moreover, in a country like Nigeria where agricultural extension services are largely dominated by men, women are by-passed by modern ideas of improved technology that could raise their productivity, increase their income generating capacity, and improve their general welfare (Oluwasola, 2001).
Oluwasola (2001) remarked that the efforts of rural women should no longer be ignored even at the local level and that the roles of women in agricultural development often remain concealed due to some social barriers, gender barriers and lopsided government programs that often fail to focus on women in agriculture.
Despite the high involvement of Nigerian women in agricultural production, there is still paucity of data in some localities on the roles these women farmers play (Arokoyo and Chikwendu, 1994). Consequently they have been in most time, excluded from salient agricultural development programs. This paucity of reliable data has been attributed to factors such as neglect of women‘s work in the non-wage sector which agriculture falls into and distorted statistics on women‘s work by development planners and researchers. Men‘s work is usually reflected in statistics of agricultural labour because they constitute the cash sector. Even where some data existed on women‘s work, these were often neglected by development planners (Arokoyo and Chikwendu, 1994). It is worth noting that Nigeria‘s economic recovery through agricultural self-sufficiency remains elusive as long as roles performed by Nigerian women in agricultural development particularly at local levels cannot be adequately conceptualized into meaningful policy framework. It is against this background that this study assesses the role of women in agricultural production in Ibesokpo-Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
Regardless of the level of development achieved by different economies, (Daman, 2003) women play a pivotal role in agriculture and in rural development in many countries of the world. The role of women in many societies however, are bound by age-old traditions and beliefs, patriarchal practices motivated by culture, interpretations of religious sanctions which hinder women ‘s freedom to play key roles and assert their right to social and economic development. It was observed that women ‘s contribution to agriculture and other sectors in the economy remain concealed and unaccounted for in measuring economic development. Consequently, they are generally neglected in plans and programs. They were, in fact discriminated against by stereotypes which restricted them to a reproductive role, and denied them access to resources which could eventually enhance their social and economic contribution to the society (Daman, 2003).
Sibanda (2011) had remarked that it was unfortunate that it was only those women who enjoyed a space and platform in academics, science, economics and politics that were celebrated and yet in Africa there was a deserving group of extraordinary women who still have no voice is the African women farmers. Sibanda further asserted that women farmers are the pillars of African agriculture. FAO (2010) observed that over two-third of all women in Africa were employed in the agricultural sector and produce nearly 90% of food on the continent, responsible for growing, selling, buying and preparing food for their families. Yet, even as the pillar of food security, they are still marginalized in business relations and have minimal control over access to resources such as land, inputs, such as improved seeds, fertilizers, credit facilities and new techniques of agricultural productions. A combination of logical, cultural and economic factors, coupled with a lack of gender statistics in the agricultural sector, mean that agricultural programs are rarely designed with women‘s needs in mind. As a result, African women farmers have no voice in the development of
agricultural policies designed to improve their productivity.
In spite of the high involvement of Nigerian women in agricultural production, there is still, a paucity of data on critical activities of these women farmers at least at local levels.
Consequently they have been excluded from national development programs. This paucity of reliable data has been attributed to certain factors which include: neglect of women‘s work in the non-wage sector which agriculture falls into and distorted statistics on women‘s work by development planners and researchers. Men‘s work has been usually reflected in statistics of agricultural labour because they constitute the cash sector. Even where some data existed on women ‘s work, these were often neglected by development planners (Arokoyo and Chikwendu,1994).
It is noteworthy that Nigeria‘s economic recovery through agricultural self-sufficiency remains elusive as long as roles performed by Nigerian women in agricultural development particularly at local levels cannot be adequately conceptualized into meaningful policy framework. It is against this background that a well- planned and coordinated research programme such as this was conceived to provide a strong base of development programmes that will adequately receive rural sector support for increased agricultural production.
1.3 Aim and Objectives
The aim of the study is to assess the roles of women in agricultural production in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. However, the specific objectives are to: -
· To Characterize women farmers according to their socio-economic backgrounds.
· To Examine the factors that influence/determine women farmers participation in agricultural production
· To examine the specific roles women, play in agricultural production in Ibesikpo-Asutan Local Government Area
· To examine the challenges women farmers face in the study area.
1.4 Research Questions:
o What are the Characteristics of women farmers according to their socio-economic backgrounds?
o What are the factors that influence/determine women farmers participation in agricultural production?
o What are the specific roles women, play in agricultural production in Ibesikpo-Asutan Local Government area?
· What are the challenges women farmers face in the study area?
1.5 Null Hypothesis
In the light of the foregoing research questions, the following hypothesis was posed:-
Ho: There is no significant difference between socioeconomic characteristics of women and their roles in agricultural production.
H1: There is significant difference between socioeconomic characteristics of women and their roles in agricultural production.
1.6 Scope of Study
The study is concerned with assessing the role of women in agricultural production in Ibesikpo-Asutan local government area (LGA) of Akwa Ibom State. It is made up of ten wards and for the sake of the study, five wards were selected.
The study area share similar socioeconomic characteristics and women farmers abound in the communities playing similar roles in farming and as such, the selected five wards can represent the entire study area. However, the study focused on the roles performed by women in agricultural production in the study area, the socio-economic characteristics of women involved in agricultural production, the constraints to effective role of women in farm activities, agricultural extension services that are available to women in performing their roles in agricultural production. The study area was chosen because of the high concentration of women in farming activities in the study area. The temporal scope spans from 2000 to 2014 because of the availability of data within this period.
1.7 Significance of the Study
Ogunlela and Mukhtar (2009) remarked that women made up to 60-70% of agricultural labour force in Nigeria. Yet the wide spread assumption that men should make the key farm decisions has continued to erode women‘s roles. This study on the role of women in agricultural production becomes necessary to document the specific roles of women in agriculture and provide insight into the current situation of women involved in various aspect of agriculture. In variably, women are primary breadwinners in subsistence economies and cultures in Nigeria. Women work longer hours and devote a larger share of their earnings to supporting their families than men do (Mamman, 1994). The issue of gender in agriculture (World Bank, FAO and IFAD, 2009) pointed out that they are crucial for the attainments of food security, a main objective for sustainable agricultural growth and development.
The information generated from this study will therefore be useful for the formulation of policies on women development programmes; particularly for the Ibesikpo-AsutanLocal Government communities, state, agencies of government at federal levels and other NGOs with the mandate of women farmer‘s empowerments. On the basis of the available evidence, the role of women in agricultural production cannot be trivialized. They perform crucial roles on domestic and economic life of society. Rural and national development can hardly be achieved with the neglect of this important and substantial segment of the society (Sibanda, 2011). Therefore, the study of the role of women in agricultural production in the study area was very pertinent.
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