There’s a quote from famous poet and human rights activist Maya Angelou, that goes, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” As today marks International Day of Rural Women, let’s applaud women and their contributions to society, while also shedding light on the existing opportunities and untapped potential of this disenfranchised group. We also want to use this opportunity to applaud the work that GBfoods, makers of Gino Tomatoes, Gino Cubes, Gino Thyme, Gino Curry, Bama Mayonnaise and Jago Mayonnaise are doing to lift Nigerians, especially Nigerian women, out of poverty through agriculture.

This year’s theme for International Day of Rural Women (IDRW) is Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All. This theme was selected from the necessity to showcase the essential role that rural women and girls play in the food systems of the world.

In some regions of sub-Saharan Africa, women may cultivate as many as 120 different plants alongside crops that are managed by men. Statistics by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development indicate that women in Nigeria account for 75 per cent of the farming workforce either as farm managers or suppliers of labour. This significant gender disparity suggests that to achieve optimum efficiency within the context of food security and poverty eradication, women, especially those in rural areas, need to be empowered.

Empowerment through Initiatives and structures that increase their capacity and overall wellbeing are essential, some of which include access to necessities like water and medication, and access to information and training that enhances operational and technological expertise.

Despite these easily identifiable factors to progress stated above, it seems only a handful of organizations in Nigeria understand that the empowerment of women, especially those in rural areas is a key factor that drives food security and help to eradicate poverty. Over the years, FMCG Manufacturer GB Food, makers of Nigeria’s favourite Tomato Paste, Gino, have constantly reinforced their commitment and appreciation of women. The socially responsible company recently provided over 1,000 farming jobs at their tomatoes integrated farm and factory in Kebbi State, with over 70 per cent of them being women, all of whom have never had a paying job before.  In many cases, the spouses of these women were reluctant to allow them to work, but GB Foods was able to persuade them on the benefits of allowing their wives and daughters to work and generate additional income for the family.

Women in Kebbi State

According to Dr Teddy Ngu, Corporate Affairs, Director, GB Foods Africa, “This is a step in the right direction in support of all women, but more needs to be done to reach the entire country. We understand that there exists a myriad of challenges that face rural women and that’s why we’re also working to ensure access to potable water in all communities in which we operate. So far we have constructed over 24 boreholes and restored an additional 10. What pulled on our heartstrings, was the fact that some of these communities had never had clean drinking water— a basic and essential necessity of life.

Mr Vincent Egbe, the Managing Director, GB Foods Nigeria added, “The boreholes have reduced infant mortality in the vicinity, whilst also assisting to reduce illness in families, especially lactating mothers due to better water hygiene. We have also trained many pregnant and lactating women in the communities with good pre-and post-natal practices.”

From planting and harvesting crops to the distribution and supply of food to the grassroots, women are truly critical actors in the agricultural value chain — they possess the power to grow, nurture and transform. Whether or not compensated for their labour, women still find a way to feed their family, community, and the world.

Compensation in this context is not limited to cash remuneration but in providing some sort of value, that not only empowers women but also their communities and families. In this regard, GB Food offered training on good agricultural practices to over 500 farmers, 30 per cent of them women, in the 2020/21 tomatoes season. In the 2021/22 season, GB Foods will train over 3,000 smallholder farmers, a quarter of them, women.

According to the United Nations, improving and supporting the lives of women in rural communities is a crucial factor in fighting poverty and hunger. Giving women equal access to the same opportunities as men could raise agricultural production by 2.5 to 4 per cent in the poorest regions and reduce the number of malnourished people significantly

So with this year’s IDRW theme being Rural women cultivating good food for all, let’s recognize the work of heroines in the food systems and expand opportunities for women in rural areas.

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