Alliances and Innovation: Strengthening Women’s Resilience and Food Security in Nigeria

A woman participates in agroprocessing activities in Bauchi State Nigeria.
MEDA's Nigeria WAY project has supported women entrepreneurs to strengthen their resilience in the agri-food system.

Women in Nigeria play a crucial role in food security, producing as much as 80 percent of the staple foods in the country. Yet their resilience capacity to recover from shocks and stresses is typically lower than it is for men. This is especially true in Nigeria’s northern state of Bauchi, which is disproportionately vulnerable to climate change impacts. Bauchi faces the many multi-dimensional implications of desertification, including the destabilization of its agri-food systems. Prevailing cultural norms remain strong and are less favorable towards women, weakening the access of many women entrepreneurs and small-business owners to markets, financing opportunities, and networks.

Investing in women’s resilience

Investing in women to strengthen their capacity to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of market barriers and stressors like climate change is critical to building women’s resilience. It is also urgently needed to foster a resilient agri-food system that ensures decent work and sufficient food.

Recognizing this challenge, MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) and Global Affairs Canada have supported women entrepreneurs and women-led small businesses in Northern Nigeria since 2017 through the Youth Entrepreneurship and Women’s Empowerment project. The project has introduced several initiatives to strengthen women’s resilience in Bauchi’s agri-food system. Using surveys conducted with 387 small entrepreneurs and 100 small businesses, two interventions in particular have shown to be important catalysts for women-led businesses to succeed: collective action and access to innovative technology.

Creating connectivity through women’s alliances

It is well established that participation in groups offers women access to a broader range of markets, financing, and sources of information about the fields in which they operate. Connectivity and cooperation are key factors in increasing women’s resilience and the resilience of the agri-food systems in which they operate. In Bauchi, the project found that forming women into savings and loans groups (SLGs) and member alliances has significantly improved their access to finance and resilience to shocks.

MEDA selected SLGs as a basis for women’s alliances in recognition of the role they can play in combining market system tools that incentivize women to save money, with impact finance practices that allow them to borrow money to multiply their impact. SLGs have allowed many small-scale women entrepreneurs to access financing who may not have otherwise qualified for mainstream financial services from formal or semi-formal sources. These groups also formed the basis for creating the Women in Business Financial Institution (WiBFin).

The WiBFin, a microfinance institution, was built by women-led small and medium-sized enterprises to increase financial inclusion for women. The institution now offers its members loans and business development services to improve the performance and sustainability of their businesses. One of these members, the Bula Women Financial Cooperative, had previously received a rice milling machine from MEDA but faced a further challenge in accessing a consistent power supply to use the machine. WiBFin provided the connections needed to address the challenge. “We approached WiBFin for a loan facility which was granted to enable our Savings and Loans Group to purchase a generator, and this has been so helpful,” shared one of Bula’s members, “when others are waiting for power supply, we are busy cashing out.”

By 2023, over 90 percent of those surveyed indicated a significant increase in business opportunities due to their active membership in alliances or groups. These enhanced opportunities included better access to information, advancements in financial services and products, and a noticeable expansion of selling and trading options. The gains have also supported greater diversification – a critical component of resilience capacity. By improving women’s access to finance, alliances have paved the way for women to start investing in productive technologies.

A woman in Nigeria sits next to her new solar powered lamp.
Sun King solar-powered lamps were introduced to women through the Nigeria WAY project using price discount mechanisms.

Innovation as a buffer for shocks

While alliances have supported innovation opportunities, there are a number of factors that limit women’s access to agricultural technology as compared to men. Among these, women may have less access to capital or less control over household agricultural assets. In response to these challenges, MEDA and Global Affairs Canada created a ‘Smart Incentives’ program to encourage the adoption of productive and innovative technology that can support women in business. Three mechanisms were used in Bauchi to create sustainable business solutions that can close this gap: matching awards that offer co-funding opportunities for enterprises to address the challenges they face, direct price discounts on tools and technologies, and an Innovation Fund offering prizes of CA$100-500 for creative ideas that address the agro-processing needs of women. Using these mechanisms, women were able to access new technologies and processing techniques that were previously out of reach or not tailored to their needs.

One featured technology introduced to women-led businesses was the Sun King Boom – a solar-powered lamp with a radio and SD card function. A price discount was facilitated for the lamp to reduce the obstacles women in Bauchi often face in accessing a technology like this to improve their enterprises. The technology has proven to be a game changer in providing women with light to work beyond daylight hours and reliable access to relevant market information through its charging features. Business owner Safiya Musa has witnessed this impact firsthand, using the lamp to charge her phone and listen to trainings through the SD card, “I use [the lamp] in charging my phone which I use for my business; this helps me as in our community power can be unstable.”

By adopting technologies and techniques like solar-powered lamps, over 78 percent of surveyed women entrepreneurs reported a significant decrease in the time they needed to allocate to agro-processing activities. The quality of their outputs also improved, and they saw an increase in their business performance. This increased performance can act as a buffer for future shocks or stresses women in business may face.

Piecing together the resilience puzzle

Investing in women’s alliances and access to innovative technologies have proven to be essential pieces of the resilience puzzle in the state of Bauchi. Improving resilience capacity is critical for women to thrive as they face ever-evolving climatic, economic, and societal challenges and, ultimately, for a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable agri-food system. The impacts of investments like these can be wide-reaching – creating more decent work opportunities and improving food security in the region.

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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Helen Emumwen

This is impressive. Well Done MEDA! As we can see, a little step at a time can lead to big results. I have been privileged to facilitate workshops for Microfinance institutions in Cross Rivers State supported by MEDA and can say I have a first-hand experience of the seriousness and great lengths MEDA goes to achieve desired results. Success stories abound in their work across the globe and we are fortunate to have MEDA’s presence in Nigeria.

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