Eberechukwu Okey-Onyema is the Executive Director, Healthy Living and Women Empowerment Initiative (HELWEI), a non-governmental organisation, and member, Steering Committee, Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria. Recently, the body organised a two-day capacity building workshop in agro-technology, financial management and marketing for women in Egbe and Idimu in Lagos State. She told PAUL ADUNWOKE that women need to engage in farming to enable them feed their families and live healthy.
Why do you focus on farming and not any other field?
We set out to promote good health through nutrition, and you cannot talk about nutrition without mentioning agriculture. So, we train them because we know the role agriculture plays in overall health. If people do not have enough food to eat, they will be malnourished.
In Nigeria today, there are over 37 per cent of malnourished Nigerian children that have stunted growth. So, we train women on agriculture to enable them have good productivity, so as to have good health. When women are healthy and have good life, they will be able to support their families. As they say, he who trains a woman, trains a community. This project will give women the capacity to send their children to good schools and make good decisions about their health.
What was the purpose of the workshop?
As an NGO, we are committed to improving lives of children and women, promoting their general health and wellbeing through nutrition and positive lifestyle, advocacy and research. We work in different communities and in the course of our duty, we discovered that there are lots of knowledge gaps in activities most women engage themselves, such as farming. So, we work to bridge this gap, as well as gender gap and promote women and girls’ rights.
We are collaborating with Women’s Rights and Health Project in Lagos State. Currently, we are working with women in 12 local council development areas (LCDAs) in Lagos State to improve their lives and ensure that gender violence is reduced. The project will run for about three years.
We trained the women in Egbe and Idimu in such agro-business as fishery, poultry and livestock, among others. We add basic financial management because we understand the relationship between establishing a business and how to manage it. Many of the women were not into agro-business before. So, we support them from zero level and ensure that they grow to enable them take care of their families. The idea is to encourage them to acquire optimal knowledge of the business, as well as have exposure in the marketing of their products. This way, they will be able to find fulfillment through actualizing their dreams.
We also want them to have knowledge of food processing and not just being able to feed themselves and their families. This is to encourage them to go into exporting, as there are lots of potential in farming in Nigeria. We brought facilitators with rich knowledge in agro-business to enlighten them. https://d8db77b26f79e860ad3b989e4665a21f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html x
How can women maintain healthy lifestyle through agro-business?
One of the women told me she went into farming because during the COVID-19 lockdown, she could not feed her family. But she has a neighbour, who is into planting and selling of Ugu leaves (fluted pumpkin) and makes money from it and is able to feed her family. So, the neighbour introduced her into the agro-business and she started feeding her own family too.
You know that Ugu is nutritious. So, by the time you eat this vegetable, you have already provided your body with the needed vitamins to enable it function well. This is aside the monetary aspect. Women need to prioritise their health, so the training is not all about making money, but also taking care of their health.
At this period of COVID-19, there is need to boost the immunity, but the individual cannot do this without eating the right food. So, it is important that women cultivate a healthy lifestyle by eating good, nutritious food, which comprises a blend of all classes of food.
For instance, it is common knowledge that eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits is very important to good health. So also is eating the right quantity of food at the right time, especially at this period. x
Women undertake a lot of responsibilities in the family: they cook, go to farm, go to the market and attend to their husbands and children’s needs. So, they need to be in good health.
Women should not allow COVID-19 to affect their families’ wellbeing. Rather, they should go into farming to cultivate at least ugu leaves and such others to properly feed their families. Women also need to engage in physical exercise and rest well. Sanitation of environment and personal hygiene is very important to win the war against COVID-19. Aside training, we also have disbursement programme to support women with micro credits to improve their agro-business and empower them optimally.
What plans do you have for women post COVID-19?
Post COVID-19 is not going to be business as usual. We are going to have ethical farming, which means that even small spaces can be used for farming. So for instance, when vegetables are expensive in the market, the individual can pluck some from his or her farm and the food will be thus enriched.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, there were claims that relief materials did not get to women and children at the grassroots. Funds were said to have been diverted, which were meant for feeding citizens during the lockdown. Government needs to do more in terms of improving the lives of women and children. A lot of children are malnourished, which is being worsened by the increase in prices of goods. This is unbearable and something should be done urgently.