By: Dolapo Adeyanju
Working in the agricultural sector is quite challenging. The tedious nature of the work coupled with limited policy and institutional support has led many to snub a career in the sector. But, what happens when a young woman in her prime decides to join this challenging and stereotypically male-dominated sector?
Nigerian entrepreneur Nyifamu Manzo, 24, is among the small but growing group of young female agripreneurs who are defying all odds to create a new outlook for female agripreneurship in Africa.
With no physical space, mentors, and operational funds, Ogechi collaborated with her brother to establish a poultry farm in one of her father’s spare rooms. Her challenges were compounded when her brother, who was the backbone of the enterprise, backed out due to discouragement and high bird mortality. Despite this, Ogechi forged ahead, inventing a new phrase that says “what a man cannot do, a woman can do.”
She expanded this room poultry to found Farmatrix in 2019 – an agricultural and logistics enterprise involved in both food production and distribution of agricultural products across Nigeria. The enterprise which started in an abandoned small room has grown into an integrated farm with more than 2 male employees.
Ogechi described her journey as very challenging as many people find it absurd that a beautiful young lady like her chose farming over other “polished” jobs. She further explained that this perception negatively impacts her ability to access productive resources but, her innovative thinking ability has helped her to overcome many limitations.
“When I started, many people found it so strange that I took up farming. However, a few were equally fascinated and encouraging,” she said. “Once I created a brand for myself, I sourced for funds from close contacts via WhatsApp, promising 20% ROI. Surprisingly, I was able to raise one million nairas within a week. As promised, everyone got back both their investment and ROI at the end of that production cycle,” she explained.
For Oyebimpe Arowosebe, 29, – a trained female Heliciculturist who is dedicated to eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa – agripreneurship is like a pitch competition where she has to prove her capabilities as a young woman.
Despite her years of experience as an agripreneur and agribusiness consultant, she still struggles with two-edged discrimination associated with age and gender.
Oyebimpe – who is the lead expert at Pearl Farms – said: “Many times, people doubt my capabilities to perform certain agro-related tasks because I am young and a female. First meetings are always weird as some clients are dazed and pass comments like ‘oh, so you are a lady.’”
Of course, comments like this are not limited to those operating at the production level of the chain, it is something Kenyan-based Esther Kiura, 27, also experienced as an independent agricultural researcher.
She describes her sub-sector as one with the fewest number of women and obvious gender imbalance. Esther, who has been supporting donor projects to advance agricultural research in Africa for many years, says: “There is usually a lot of judgment before people get to know who I am and what I know. Many farmers usually see me as a naïve female who is too young “to be qualified” for the job. However, once I prove myself, I gain so much respect.”
For Dorcas Omole, 26 – the youngest person to manage the second-largest SAH cassava field in the World – acceptance has never been an issue. She described her job as challenging, her experience as fascinating, and herself as a valuable member of her team. Dorcas, who is a trained agronomist, said: “The job is truly physically challenging but, my male colleagues don’t treat me any differently, I get the same chances as everyone else.”
Even though she is accepted at work, she admits she encounters raised eyebrows when people hear she is an agripreneur. She, however, commended the overwhelming support she gets from her community – both on and offline.
These young women believe that the era of gender discrimination in agriculture will soon become history and people will come to accept and support young women in agripreneurship. While we patiently wait for this to unfold, they encourage more young women to join the bandwagon and give no room for limitations.