We, women smallholder farmers in Nigeria, have been a marginalized and disadvantaged group in our country for a long time. Now, the Small-scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON) brings over 500,000 of us together to collectively voice our needs to policymakers and development partners.
In the past, we viewed the budget as something that was not our concern. We thought of it as something strictly for government officials, and, as farmers, we did not think we needed to know about it. However, as we began organizing and understanding how government policy impacts smallholder women farmers, we saw how crucial the budget was to our cause. We realized that our elected leaders and other duty bearers needed to let us know what they were planning on doing for us and how they were going to do it.
Getting budget information has been a challenge. We had this experience some years ago, when we entered the budget office in one of the states of Nigeria and tried to engage with them. They asked, “Madam, are you well? Why are you concerned with the budget? Are you the one to make the budget? No. Wait until the government makes its budget, then we will tell you about it.” All too often the government (at the local, the state and federal levels) would want to wait until they had an approved budget before they would share it with the public.
We now understand that to have a voice, we need to be a part of the process that puts together the budget. We need to know and engage about how much is being allocated to the agricultural sector – and how much of that goes to women farmers. In Nigeria, there is an adage that says, “You cannot barb my hair in my absence.” Hence, the government cannot plan for us when we are not there. We need to be part of budget planning so we can tell the government what our priority needs are. How does the government know what type of fertilizer or improved seeds we require? By sitting down with us to hear our needs and demands, the government can ensure that budget allocations and policies are effective and appropriately targeted.
Similarly, we need to have access to and a say in budget implementation. Even when allocations are secured during budget planning, it can be difficult to track when the money is disbursed and where it goes. As the beneficiaries of the budget, we can help the government to improve the delivery of services in the agricultural and other relevant sectors.
As the International Budget Partnership’s latest Open Budget Survey shows, Nigeria’s score on budget transparency is only 21 out of 100, well below neighboring countries like Ghana (54/100), Sierra Leone (39/100), and Liberia (38/100). However, there is room for hope: key information, like the Quarterly Budget Implementation Report, is produced – it just needs to be published in a more timely and user-friendly manner so that groups like ours, SWOFON, can effectively use that information.
Additionally, government and stakeholders at both the federal and state levels have begun to provide us with opportunities to make our voices heard. Our experiences have shown us the value of not going into this engagement alone, but rather building coalitions to demonstrate the power of our numbers and diversity. For example, recently 379,172 smallholder women farmers, organized into approximately 37,000 cooperatives across six geo-political regions in Nigeria, submitted a collective call for better access to improved seeds and seedlings, subsidized fertilizer, and gender-friendly equipment, such as power tillers and hand planters. We hope that our collective demands will be adequately reflected in the 2020 budget implementation, as well as in planning of the 2021 budget at the federal and state government levels.
Rural women farmers feed the nation and cultivate the land. We have every right to understand, shape, and track the budget and what is meant for us. When considering the critical issue of food security in the nation, you cannot forget the role of the rural woman farmer, since women constitute 70% of the farming workforce in Nigeria. More than half the number of people living in poverty in Nigeria could be lifted to a better standard of life if women had the same access to productive resources in agriculture as men.
Better targeted investment in the agricultural budget can improve livelihoods. And, increasing the public’s access to budget information and opportunities to engage in budget decision making and monitoring is key to making this happen. SWOFON is proud to sign on to IBP’s Call to Open Budgets, and stands ready to help the government make the budget more open and accountable.
*The authors would like to thank David Robins at IBP for his help with this post.
This first video features Mary Afan of SWOFON describing their activities around budget transparency including monitoring budget data and the need to check performance using spending data.
In the second video, Afan speaks to their work around budget participation and their engagement with state and central level executives from the agriculture sector to highlight the challenges of female farmers.