I stumbled into commodities trading by chance in December 2018 and I remain fascinated by the enormous agricultural potential in the eleven countries across West Africa that I am privileged to work in: from food and agricultural commodities to total number of people employed in the sector and the amount of arable land available in the region.
As I continue my work, I particularly encountered the numerous challenges that the sector faced: fragmented and infrastructural pitfalls across the value chain and a lack of fundamental support. For example, Storage limitations leads to loss with smallholder farmers suffering the most (according to the UN food and agricultural organization 20% of grains are lost to poor storage). In addition, road penetration stands at 15% in Nigeria, which leads to crippling logistics and delays, poorly developed irrigation and lack of clean water supply force farmers to rely on unpredictable rainfall.
According to the federal ministry of agriculture, and rural development, women account for 75% of the farming population in Nigeria, working as farm managers and suppliers of labor. The possibilities of women in Agriculture are hindered by formal and traditional rules. Though women farmers work alongside with their male counterparts, there are clear distinctions in activities between them. For instance, the men execute more tedious task such as land clearing and felling of trees while the women engage in planting, weeding, harvesting, on site processing and selling of farm produce. Also of note is the fact that women are rarely connected with agricultural export crops such as cocoa, sesame seed and cotton but rather are more involved in the production of food crops such as maize, melon, cowpea and vegetables.
As I continued to meet, engage, trade and collaborate with aggregators and smallholder farmers in my territory, I became intrigued by the segmented role of women despite the high number of their involvement in production, their seat remain vacant in policy making and the value chain.
Women’s involvement in the value chain is limited especially post-harvest. Women are mostly involved in informal processing such as frying of cassava for garri while men dominate formal processing companies. A major reason for the disparity in engagement by men and women in the formal and informal sector is low access to funding. Women are also restricted from bulk buying (aggregation is very common) making men more prominent in trading activities in the local and international scene.
The Velvette company is a woman owned agribusiness. It was founded to ensure smallholder farmers particularly women are well educated to increase their crop yield, are included in policy making & regulation that directly affect their livelihoods, access global buyers and earn a fair wage for their products.