A WAY to increase opportunity for Nigerian women and youth

Adama and her goat
Adama with her goat, which she named MEDA Canada. Owning livestock is a significant method of storing value for rural residents who lack access to banking services

Photos by Roxie Ola-Akuma/MEDA

Nigeria is one of the larger and wealthier nations in Africa.

But economic opportunity is varied and unevenly distributed. Average income of $416USD per month is more than a dozen times higher than what many rural farm families subsist on.

Just under half of Nigeria’s 201 million citizens live in rural areas. The poverty rate (families earning less than $1USD a day) among that group is 47.3 percent.

Northern regions of the country have higher unemployment, greater economic and gender inequality and outbreaks of violent conflict.

MEDA’s youth entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment in northern Nigeria (WAY) project aims to increase the contribution by entrepreneurs and small-scale businesses, particularly those run by women and youth, to Nigeria’s economic growth.

Lack of access to infrastructure, mobility and finance have been barriers to women’s participation in business

The five-year effort, funded by Global Affairs Canada and contributions from individual MEDA supporters, targets businesses in Bauchi State’s processing sector and food industry. It focuses specifically on three main value chains: rice, peanuts and soybeans.

The project aims to improve business performance, enhance the business environment for women and youth, and strengthen community and family support to decrease the risk of early and forced girl child marriage.

Bauchi State is the gateway of the Boko Haram insurgency.  Boko Haram, often translated to mean “Western education is forbidden,” began an armed rebellion against Nigeria’s government in 2009. 

Many women whose husbands have been killed in the conflict fled to Bauchi, which had a major impact on the region’s economy, said Grace Fosen, MEDA’s country director for the Nigeria Way project.

The project has surpassed its target of reaching 16,000 women and youth entrepreneurs working in the soybean, rice and peanut agriculture value chains, with a year remaining. By this spring, the WAY program had worked with over 17,000 entrepreneurs.

On a related goal of working with 523 women sales agents, the project has engaged 498 to date.

Adama and her husband
Adama and her spouse Mallam Jibrin wash paddy rice to prepare it for parboiling.

Savings and loan groups – people who meet regularly to pool savings, make loans and learn new skills to overcome issues that limit them from having or growing a business – have worked well as an entry point, says Grace Fosen, MEDA’s country director for the Nigeria Way project. “That gave these women the ability to save a little… to give themselves loans.” 

The groups helps provide financing for people who have found it difficult to engage with financial institutions, empowering them to put more money into their businesses.

Women in 200 groups across seven different areas have accumulated 121 million Nigerian Naira ($314,600 USD).

Introducing new technology to improve processing techniques and stimulating business innovation are important elements of the project.

Map of Nigeria Showing Bauchi State

Assistance to purchase rice parboiling equipment and other technologies have helped women enjoy greater success in the market due to the higher quality of their product. Climate smart technology has also saved both time and drudgery.

A traditional parboiling technique took a week to process one bag of rice and resulted in substandard quality. A system that involves steaming the rice instead of boiling it processes two bags in two hours, with improved quality and reduced consumption of water and oil.

Improved cooking systems are also being introduced through the project. An estimated 95,000 Nigerian women die annually due to indoor gas pollution. Use of locally produced briquettes that do not smoke inside the house produce a more sustainable fuel source.

Increased business success and higher family incomes have led to improved communication and household decision making, with husbands assisting with household chores and helping their wives market their production.

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