September 06, 2021
OWSD Nigeria National Chapter University of PortHarcourt Branch series of scientific communications "Re-thinking Agenda 2063: Leveraging STEM women empowerment for food security"
Re-thinking Agenda 2063: Leveraging STEM women empowerment for food security in a post Covid-19 Pandemic era
Dr Adanna Henri-Ukoha
During the golden jubilee celebration of the formation of Organization for African unity/African Union, African leaders made a declaration of their commitment to support Africa’s new path for attaining inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development. This led to the development of Agenda 2063 which is a blue print and master plan for the transformation of Africa into a global driving force of the future. Agenda 2063 is Africa’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development. Agenda 2063 seeks to deliver on a set of Seven Aspirations each with its own set of goals which if achieved will move Africa closer to achieving its vision for the year 2063. Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063 foresees a “A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.” To achieve this ambition, one of the key goals (goal 5) for Africa (Nigeria inclusive) is to ensure the transformation of agriculture for increased production and to ensure that its citizens are food secure.
Food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet dietary needs and food preferences for productive and healthy life (United States AID, USAID, 2021). Food security goes far beyond having enough food. It is being able to access food of high nutritional quality regularly, without worrying about not having food on the table. There are four components of food security. These include availability, affordability/access, and utilization as well as stability. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger. Food and nutrition security issues occupy a central place on the global agenda for sustainable development and Agenda 2063.
It is worrisome to realize that between 720 and 811 million people, the majority of who live in Africa, still go to bed hungry each night in 2020 in particular (FAO, 2021). The World Food Programme estimates that this number could exceed 1 billion (WFP, 2021). This report indicates a worsening food insecurity scenario. The total population of the West African sub-region is projected to reach 420 million in 2020 (Zoungrana, 2013). In order to feed a population expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, the world will have to double its current food production (USAID, 2021). The number of food-insecure people is expected to reach 12.9million. This scenario was primarily driven by unsustainable food systems, conflict and social unrest, socio-economic conditions, natural hazards, climate change, pests, and now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in Wuhan city of China in December 2019 (World Health Organization, 2020). Covid-19 disease and the fear of disease generated extensive global economic and social impacts, along with restrictions on international travel imposed by most countries, the quarantining of millions of people, and disruption of supply chains for food and manufactured products (Nicola et al. 2020). The agricultural sector is not left behind as COVID-19 disrupted many activities in fisheries, livestock, crops, and their supply chains (McNamara et al., 2020). The Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to push half a million communities in developing countries into poverty (Sumner et al. 2020). The pandemic is estimated to affect mostly countries in poor countries through extreme poverty, as an additional 54 million and 24 million people, respectively, will live below the poverty line (Azcona et al., 2020).
The story is the same in Nigeria as World Food Programme reported a 34.1 percent loss in Gross Domestic Product due to COVID-19, which amounts to USD 16 billion. Broadly speaking, 40 percent of Nigerians (83 million people) live below the poverty line, while another 25 percent (53 million) are vulnerable due to the pandemic (World Bank, 2021). With COVID-19, many of these 53 million vulnerable people could fall into poverty. A devastating reality is that the path to zero hunger through goal I of Agenda 2063 is being stopped dead in its tracks by COVID-19. Therefore, our collective ability to meet zero hunger by 2063 appears elusive unless urgent actions are taken.
Women are more adversely affected by the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including losing livelihoods and experiencing decreases in their personal incomes. FAO reported that increasing women’s contribution to food production and enterprise could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent, or by 100 to 150 million people (FAO, 2011). Hence, empowering women and the food systems that nourish them in this era is more important than ever. “More involvement of women in the creation of post-COVID future is critical in building back better food systems where there is equal access to nutritious food and decent livelihoods.” (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2012). Empowering them will contribute to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in creating an environment that will reduce poverty, enhance productivity, and improve food security.
And how can we achieve this?
Achieving Agenda 2063 can be achieved in a post-covid era through the empowerment of women will be considered in two dimensions. These include direct empowerment of STEM women and the transfer of knowledge to others who will benefit from the empowered STEM women.
Direct Empowerment of STEM Women
The women can be empowered in the following areas.
- Empowerment in Knowledge sharing and participation:
Food security can be achieved through the involvement and active participation of women in educational, capacity building, and knowledge transfer activities and projects on technologies in agriculture and sustainable practices. Incentivizing the adoption of advanced technologies among STEM women will also boost agricultural production.
- Empowerment through the formation of STEM Women Agripreneurs
The Uniport STEM women can establish Women Agripreneurs-in-STEM (WASTEM) program. Through this platform, STEM women who want to start their own innovative business build and grow their dream business especially in agripreneurship can be trained, empowered, and support. Training and empowerment can be in the areas of aquaponics (using fish/aquatic waste to grow plants, through a cyclical system), hydroponics (the process of growing plants in a medium (without soil) and adding nutrients), aeroponics (the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium), bucket farming, bag farming, portable snail, goat, fish, battery cage system among others. It can also be in the area of exposing them to the opportunities of participating as actors in the agricultural value chain for agricultural development and food security.
- Empowerment with Financial Resources:
This can be achieved through the development of partnerships with the government, financial institutions, non-governmental agencies, and other relevant stakeholders. It will also involve the design and development of programs that facilitate STEM women agripreneurs access to financial resources especially from the financial institutions and other concerned agencies.
- Empowerment to establish group farms
UniPort STEM women can be encouraged to establish group farms within or outside the university environment. This will lead to increased agricultural productivity. The income generated from the sales of the proceeds when sold to the members of the university community obviously translate to food security towards the attainment of Agenda 2063 in this post-Covid-19 pandemic era.
- Empowered STEM women transfer the knowledge and skill to others
This can be achieved in the following areas:
- Formation of Young farmers’ club for STEM girls
The formation of young farmers’ clubs in secondary schools particularly for STEM girls will stimulate their interest in agriculture. The empowerment can be through the exposure of students to innovative agricultural practices and agriculture potential information thereby raising a generation of students who are willing to get involved in agriculture. This will help to improve agricultural production.
- Empower women in university host communities
Women in the communities are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental, and social changes required for sustainable development. The STEM women can reach out to the women farmers in the university host communities and empower them through capacity building on new, innovative, better, and sustainable farming practices. The empowered STEM women can partner with government, non-governmental agencies, and other concerned stakeholders for the provision of such farm inputs as fertilizers, pesticides, high-yielding crops, and livestock varieties at subsidized rates. Training can also be a better way of marketing their farm produce as well as be easy and affordable access to loans and credit facilities. Women in university host communities can also be exposed to better farming methods through exposure visits, agricultural shows, and exhibitions. This will help to improve productivity and nutritional quality. The women can be trained on group dynamics and encourage to form small groups for easy training, mentoring, financing, and monitoring. This will promote their income-earning opportunities along the value chain, towards the attainment of food security.
- Organizing Career guidance and counseling in secondary schools
The empowered STEM women, through the organization of career guidance and selling in secondary schools, will share insights, lessons, and tips to motivate and inspire students to make informed decisions about their future. The career talks will allow students to hear from real-life role models who can demonstrate the relevance and connection of what is taught in the classroom. It will also equip students with the inspiration and information to make better-informed decisions about their future career paths. This will undoubtedly promote food security.
- Link and learn online social media platforms on agriculture
The empowered STEM women will establish links and learn online social media platforms. This will be achieved through organizing knowledge sharing and networking events, training, and webinars for the agripreneurs. This platform will connect agripreneurs from all walks and provide them the opportunity to widen their network and interact with peers from other environments. This will help to connect with new talent from a wide variety of backgrounds, showing them that agriculture is a field in which they can make a great impact on food security. Through this platform, mentorship can be provided that can challenge and provide mentorship to upcoming agripreneurs to help them grow their agribusiness.
Achieving zero hunger in the year 2063 in the post-covid -19 pandemic era will require new and existing applications in science, technology, and engineering across the food system, addressing all dimensions of food security. The empowerment of STEM women is critical, not only for ensuring food at all times but also for harnessing agriculture and the broader food system as a driver of Agenda 2063.
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About the speaker
Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Port Harcourt