Investigation: Gombe Women in Agriculture relish support of BOA, BOI, SMEDAN

A woman at her rice farm

By Williams Ago, Gombe

Transparent and free access to services and incentives provided by some agro based financial institutions in Gombe has encouraged more women to venture into small and large scale farming.

These financial institutions, Bank of Industry (BOI), Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), whose flexibility and low loan interest rate has continued to attract more women into farming, has boosted economic development and welfare of the rural population.

Transparency in Access to Funding for women in Agricultural Co-operatives through these institutions, has been a concern and a focal point for addressing gender disparity and ensuring fair and equitable access to financial resources.

However, investigation by our correspondent revealed that some of these women who utilized the opportunities offered by these institutions have continued to tell stories of success and the positive impact it has had on their families.

BOI, BOA and SMEDAN are pivotal financial institutions in Nigeria that play significant roles in providing access to funding, support and resources to various sectors, including agriculture.

Primarily, agricultural cooperatives help build sustainable communities, especially in rural areas, which can boost economic development and welfare of the rural population.

One of the main ideas of agricultural co-operatives is self support as members are given soft loans with a low interest rates. Some of these women bared their experience to our correspondent.

Maryam Abubakar is the chairperson of Alfari Women Group, an agric co-operative in Gombe with about 20 registered women, most of whom are farmers.

She is one out of many women who have been enjoying the benefits of micro and enterprises loans as well as medium scale loans from Bank of Agriculture in Gombe for the past two years.

The BOA, a Nigerian government sponsored development bank, provides credit facilities to both small businesses within rural areas and Maryam noted that women are becoming more aware of the various loans obtainable through the BOA in the State, hence, the increase in the number of women who are currently benefiting from BOA loans. 

She described the mode of accessing loans from BOA as transparent and without challenges and with an interest rate of 4%. 

She said it is low and payable, which is what gave her the confidence to approach the bank to access loans and assist her farming and other businesses.

Maryam said many women who benefit from the loan find it easy to repay within the stipulated period of six months because of its flexibility.

Our investigation also revealed that many rural women are beginning to gain access to soft loans by various institutions, especially the BOA.

SMEDAN, another institution that has supported women farmers in Gombe State has also recorded some remarkable achievement with the women entrepreneurs.

Mr. Umar, the desk officer for SMEDAN in Gombe office says the agency does not issue direct loans to individuals but can provide one with business planning, development information and advise to ensure that one has a good and confident start.

According to Mr. Umar, SMEDAN provides access to finance, business support services as well as business information services among other mandates. 

He however said the agency has some programmes, which has been easily accessible to the women and which has made direct impact on them. 

He said one of the programmes is the "Wise P" for women in agriculture, which targets women in various LGAs in Gombe State. The women in agricultural cooperatives are selected and are given Enterprenuership Development Training and Funding as grants to start their business.

About 400 women from various local governments in the State have so far benefited from the first round of the "Wise P" programme, which started in 2016/2017 with three rounds of the programme successfully carried out to their completion.

Altine Bello, who is into food processing and poultry farming is one out of the many women, who have benefited severally from some programmes by SMEDAN like the "Wise P" programme.

She testified that trainings have been held for them as well as cash and equipment provided for the women to support their agro businesses.

But at the Bank of Industry, it was observed that the bank does not operate its services or give out loans on the bases of gender. 

Any individual who meets their conditions or requirements is rather provided with the needed facilities or equipment for their businesses with 9% interest rate with a repayment period of 36 months and a monitorium of three to six months.

However, even with the support from these agro based financial institutions, some women in agriculture say they have survived and even thrived independently of these institutions.

Hajiya Jummai Ibrahim, a resident of Nayi Nawa Quarters in Gombe metropolis, engages in large scale dry and wet season farming at Dadin Kowa in Yamaltu/Deba Local Government Area of the State. She also shares her experience.

She said she had never benefitted from any loan scheme in spite of the fact that she cultivates large hectares of land, thereby contributing immensely to food security programme of the government.

Jummai stated that though there was good returns on investment in farming, she however noted that such returns may be preceded by a monumental loss, thus, acknowledging that farming is also characterised by risks, which may turn a farmer to become unemployed, if not properly managed. 

"I cultivate crops such as rice, maize, groundnut and I am also into poultry and livestock farming but I grow rice more than any other grains. I have about eight hectares of rice farm where I harvest about 150-200 bags of rice yearly.

"I have invested quite a lot in farming and I have acquired a lot through farming. Though I gain a lot, there are exceptional cases sometimes. In Year 2000, I experienced poor harvest as a result of birds infestation, worms and other diseases that affected my crops particularly rice and I had no money to tackle the challenge on time," she recounted.

This, she said affected her harvest that year as she was only able to scavenge less than 30 bags of rice, unlike other years.

In spite of some of the challenges she faced in farming, Jummai is not deterred by any of them as she struggles through other means such as trading to sustain her occupation, which she has passion for.

She says, "I have never applied for any grant or seek other means of financial support through any agric cooperative, bank or government to support my farm practice.

"I struggle and work very hard to be able to source for funds.” She recalled that there was a time she had to sell off her landed properties to buy chemicals and other farm inputs to save her crops from pests and diseases.

When asked if she will like to join agric co-operative to access loans, Hajiya Jummai said she was afraid of any form of loans.

According to her, "death can come at any time, and I am afraid to die with a loan as it will affect my children and relatives as well.”

Transparency in accessing funding for women in agricultural co-operatives through these institutions has been a concern and a focal point for addressing gender disparity and ensuring fair and equitable access to financial resources.

Despite the fact that women in agricultural co-operatives are faced with challenges in accessing funds due to various reasons, which include access to information, collateral requirement, cultural barriers among other challenges, more women, especially in the rural areas are becoming more aware about the funding opportunities provided by these institutions.

Clear, accessible information about the application process, criteria and necessary documentation and requirement, is crucial and this investigation revealed that efforts to reduce the barriers that hinders some women from accessing funds such as collateral requirement or bureaucratic procedures are essential.

Offering support mechanisms that cater specifically to the needs of women in agriculture such as capacity building programmes, mentorship and guidance on the application processes can significantly enhance transparency and facilitate access to funding.

Instituting transparent monitoring and evaluation mechanism within these financial institutions can ensure that funds allocated for women in agric cooperatives are disbursed fairly and effectively.

This includes regular audits and assessments to track the allocation and utilization of funds.

Developing and implementing gender responsive policies within these institutions can help in ensuring fair treatment and support for women engaging in agricultural cooperatives.

Policies aimed at addressing gender disparities in accessing funds and resources can foster transparency and equality. Collaborations between these financial institutions, Government bodies, NGO's and other stakeholders can create a more holistic approach to address the issues of transparent funding access for women in agric cooperatives.
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