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Rita Otu is an advocate for women farmers and the founder of the People Environment and Sustainability (PEAS) Foundation. She also established the Organic Women Network (OWN) which aims to empower women farmers to produce healthy organic products. She shared her story with us.

I love showing women farmers in Nigeria the benefits of growing food organically and motivating school girls to pursue organic farming as a worthy career.

There is no shame in farming, only in biting the hand that feeds you. Farmers have long been looked down upon, yet they are an indispensable group who constantly work hard to provide food that sustains us.

My native name is Uyai which means beauty. I love my beauty just like I love my food, natural and made organically © Rita Otu

Women farmers, especially in my community, were ignored and their concerns dismissed. I did not like this attitude and wanted to change it. It was only when I ventured further into organic farming that I became more respectful of nature, myself and those around me.

With this refreshed attitude, I attended an intensive training course on organic farming organised by the Nigerian Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN), which made me a certified trainer. I started teaching young girls and women in Nigeria about organic farming and how to make a living from it. Little did I know that this work would become my passion.

By Rita Otu

I do not have to worry about where my food comes from and what may have been sprayed on it. I farm and eat organic © Rita Otu

Laying the foundation to lead

As a child, I watched my parents farm every day to provide for the family. In my community, there are many stories of disparities and inequalities in farming. I knew it was possible to be a successful farmer and improve your livelihood, but I was not sure how to do it.

In fact, it was these stories that led me to pursue a Master degree in Economics and Management of Rural Development at the University of Manchester. It opened my eyes to the extreme social issues affecting the world today. These issues inspired me to want to be at the forefront of tackling them. This is what led me to found the People Environment and Sustainability (PEAS) Foundation.[1]

We encourage girls to have such agriculture clubs in school where they practically learn organic practices © Rita Otu

PEAS Foundation works with indigenous and rural communities to design and implement initiatives that conserve the natural biodiversity of Nigeria’s forested regions while improving the livelihoods and well-being of thousands of the country’s rural poor.

We empower women to transform and secure their rights and livelihoods. We encourage tree planting and the use of organic practices in the community. In this way, we promote self-sufficiency and secure livelihoods, while preserving the indigenous ecosystem and promoting biodiversity.

When women come together something powerful happens, the Earth turns Green © Rita Otu

The vital role of women in Society

In today’s world, the face of agriculture is women.

Women are often responsible for providing and preparing food for the household. In the family, in the community, and in multiple areas of human development, women are the engines of development. Regardless of whether these women are exposed to information or not, women have a big role to play in agriculture.

In Nigeria, women are the decision makers in planning family meals and diets. Yet, even with women farmers working more than men in my community, they substantially lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to crop yields and earnings. The challenges that we as women face are enormous.

In my state (Akwa Ibom), the barriers to increasing women’s participation in organic farming are patriarchal structures. These make it very difficult for women to have easy access to land, capital and training to develop a career in organic farming.

With the government doing little to help, we have taken the lead in supporting smallholder farmers in our communities. Together with the women farmers in my community, I started to develop a mobile phone service called Women Agricultural Extension Services (WAGES). It connects farmers to their various needs – seeds, equipment, crop advice and market linkages.

Girls should not be excluded from learning because they will soon become the face of agriculture, just like the women farmers in their community © Rita Otu

Working together to empower our women farmers

Providing education opportunities to organic women farmers should not only be a community effort, but also a government one. The government should:

  • redesign initiatives that give women farmers access to the same resources as their male counterparts
  • roll out specific-training programs that build women’s capacities to participate in organic and sustainable agriculture
  • increase funding for organic research, in universities and secondary schools where students have access to careers in organic farming
  • improve road infrastructure to facilitate access to farmers’ markets.

To all the women farmers producing food all over the world, I salute you! We need to join the world this Organic September as we celebrate women farmers on the #IGrowYourFood Action Day.[1]

There’s a quote that really resonates with me that says,

If you teach a man to farm, his family will eat. If you teach a woman to farm, the community will eat.

Learn more about how organic agriculture can support gender equity and strengthen livelihoods!

[1] #IGrowYourFood is a global action day celebrating the farmers who grow our food sustainably. It is organised by IFOAM – Organics International. Click here to learn more

Learn more about the PEAS Foundation here