GenARDIS grantees: Radio, a meeting place for women farmers in Nigeria

Project Inception/Strategy and Orientation meeting in Kaduna, Nigeria

“Majelissar Mata Manoma”: A meeting place for women farmers connecting with radio and mobile phones” is the project being implemented by the African Radio Drama Association (ARDA), another GenARDIS grantee. ARDA is a development communication non profit, non- governmental organisation based in Nigeria that uses radio, drama and other appropriate vehicles of communication to inform, educate and motivate social and behavior changes that ultimately lead to sustainable development. Data Phido has been the programme director at ARDA since June 1996 and leads the implementation team.

The project combines technologies with Gbagyi women farmer’s specific needs and will address issues that disempower them, issues both traditional ( cultural beliefs, poverty, social exclusion, etc.) and relativley recent (such as climate change).

It will promote the use of radio, GSM and Community theatre as means of communicating relevant and practical information for female and male farmers on the central issues that affect women farmers. The stories of community members recounted on radio will illustrate the interconnectedness and differences between men and women’s roles in productive, reproductive and community activities, and how these roles are changing with time and circumstance.

The project also seeks to facilitate a participatory communication process for women farmers’ empowerment and socio-economic development in a Gbagyi community in Kaduna state, Nigeria. The participatory theater sessions (theater for development, TFD), radio programs and GSM calls and texting will empower women by giving voice to their struggles and triumphs and sensitise other women and men to the challenges they face as a result of climate change. The stories and community performances will highlight solutions as well as innovative strategies strong women are implementing to improve the livelihoods and well being of themselves, their households and their communities.

Another objective is to build the capacity of women farmers to operate radios and GSM phones as a means of actively seeking information. Hands-on training for women farmers on how to operate these electronic devices will de-mystify them to women who are culturally developed to look at machines with a certain reservation. It will undoubtedly change their relationship towards these utilities.

A listeners’ club will be established, not only to provide feedback on the program but also to also act as an opportunity for female and male farmers to discuss the issues covered in the radio program together and benefit from each other’s perspectives and understandings. These clubs should segue into farmers’ organisations or cooperatives for the purpose of leveraging support and resources for their communities.
Lastly, the project will engage climate change experts, agric extension, government officials and community men to dialogue with women farmers on issues identified by the women as priority in the context of climate change and their peculiar vunerability to it. The radio program will offer the women the opportunity to direct questions, comments or
concerns to climate change experts and government officials on such issues. The responses will be broadcast in the same radio program and further information on
available extensions and other support services will be provided.

This project provides a sterling opportunity to assess and learn what outcome a participatory communication project, which includes TFD methodologies, a radio discusion and call-in program, broadcasts and strategic use of GSM telephony, might have on rural small holder female famers and their community.

Rural Nigeria

Nigeria has an estimated population of 140 million, 70 percent of which reside in rural areas and are mostly engaged in subsistent agriculture. Despite its rich natural and human resources, the country is ranked 159 out of 177 in terms of its socio-economic indices (2006 UNDP Human Development Report) and 75 million of Nigerians live in absolute poverty. Rural poverty is even worse at below a dollar a day. Agricultural production and rural livelihoods are increasingly becoming seriously susceptible to climate variability and change. As most rural smallholder farmers practice rain-fed agriculture, the uncertainty of onset and sparcity of rainfall (drought) leads to reduced yields and life there is becoming ever more precarious. The share of women in agriculture labour force in Nigeria is nearly half but among the Gbagyi (or Gwari) ethnic group of north-central region, (the focal audience for this project), women farmers make up over half of the population.

Development programs have shown that ICTs can be relevant and that they do reduce the poverty of marginalised people, although many constraints prevent rural dwellers’ (especially women’s) access to this important tool. In the area of the project, Gwagwada, only one GSM network provider has limited connectivity around “hot” spots in the community.

Radio is available and accessible to nearly 100% of the farming households in the rural areas with occasional TV availability, (less than 10%); access to GSM telephony in rural areas with even limited electricity is growing, with many male farmers owning telephone handsets and being able to afford small recharge cost. Alternatively, some farmers are able to use pay phone booths services to make and receive calls.

Gender and ICT issues at stake

Climate change affects men and women differently. Every challenge, vulnerability and impact of climate change on the general Gbagyi population is intensified in the case of their women. Extreme weather such as droughts or floods increase the burden on them and magnify the gender inequalities in their society, particularly in relation to gender roles, decision-making and control over resources. Women farmers are also more likely to be low-literate, extremely poor with even less access to most sources for information. Culturally, their male counterparts have better opportunities for exposure to new ideas and adaptating information through both formal and informal interactions at social gatherings or daily meeting places. Yet women, who are responsible for 70-80 percent of household food production in sub-Saharan Africa (OXFAM Report, 2005), all of the processing, care-giving to children and the elderly are often left out in strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Their contribution to farming and rural livelihoods is largely invisible and unacknowledged and though they are in the best position to contribute to debates and actions regarding mitigation, their role as change agents is marginal. Culturally-constructed roles for women constrain them from seeking information and knowledge.

On the whole, the Gbagyi are marginalized from accessing support and inputs due to the remote and “outpost” nature of their homelands, their lack of resources, lack of political power and lack of education. Still Gbagyi women farmers are twice as disadvantaged, especially with regard to access to information and communication, access to power and resources.

In designing a strategy to instigate social and behavioral change, the project has taken care to establish an interface between community women and ICTs as the means to empower women, improve their status and reduce poverty. Learning from the Palitathya model, the human element in the interface between ICT and people is necessarily women, as this ensures gender equality, opportunity for inclusive participation and access by every member of the households, whereas interfacing ICT with men would surely exclude most women and perpetuate the status quo.