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Promoting the economic empowerment of rural women for improved food security and nutrition in the Niger

Improving resilience through knowledge sharing and the provision of productive assets in Dosso and Maradi regions
30/06/2023

In the Niger, rural women are at the forefront of the agricultural value chain and at the core of household feeding. Nevertheless, they have restricted access to productive resources such as land, agricultural inputs, finance, credit, extension services and technology, and this limits their agricultural outputs. They also have minimal participation in decision-making platforms at all levels. Furthermore, the burden of unpaid care work limits their ability to optimize on and off farm employment and market opportunities. The global COVID-19 pandemic together with recent economic and financial crises have led to high energy and food prices, thus further amplifying the challenges that rural women face.

This good practice fact sheet focuses on the project Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women aimed at securing rural women’s livelihoods and rights in the Dosso and Maradi regions of the Niger. This project was implemented between 2015 and 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with other UN agencies, in alignment with government policies and strategies addressing nutrition, gender and food systems. It promoted gender-transformative integrated approaches focusing on community-based platforms – particularly Farmer Field Schools (FFS), Dimitra Clubs and local radio stations – with a strong focus on women’s groups, specifically around income generation, knowledge and practices.

SOME KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • On nutrition-sensitive programming: A comparison between the intervention's baseline and endline surveys shows that the average household dietary diversity score increased from 3.49 to 4.84 percent and the level of knowledge of beneficiaries on the causes and means of prevention of malnutrition increased from 59 percent to 87 percent. Nutrition education played a significant role in this positive impact on nutrition. However, changing nutrition practices takes time, especially in the case of deeply entrenched food taboos and habits. Therefore, to achieve positive results, it is important to consistently promote nutrition knowledge and support behaviour change within a broader nutrition-sensitive intervention.
  • On community engagement: The experience showed that community-based platforms like Farmers Field Schools and Dimitra Clubs enhance diversified food production, storage, trade and consumption, including through community food and nutrition education sessions and knowledge sharing, community cooking demonstrations, local food processing training, the provision of diverse productive assets and labour-saving technologies, as well as food sales to school canteens. Farmer Field Schools (FFS) can bring farmers together, enable learning on improved agricultural production, and provide agricultural inputs and support to farmers throughout the production cycle. To enhance the quality of outputs, consistent follow-up with the farmers and support to FFS facilitators must be provided beyond the lifespan of the intervention. Using Dimitra Clubs in project implementation can facilitate the involvement of both women and men, including young ones, in decision-making processes, planning, and community development, as well as provide a platform to share knowledge on issues such as nutrition and promote collective microenterprises.
  • On gender: A gender transformative agenda around the economic empowerment of rural women aims at addressing inequalities and consists in increasing women's access to productive resources and improving their knowledge and skills, while encouraging their participation in decision-making spheres. The project showed that multifunctional equipment, including shellers, flour machines and telephones, can reduce labour for women at the household level and enables them to participate in more income-generating activities. 97 percent of the 184 women interviewed in the endline survey declared that their daily living conditions had improved thanks to project interventions, such as support with labour-saving equipment. According to focus group discussions with women beneficiaries, the time spent on water collection got reduced: women were able to use the extra time to fulfil other responsibilities, such as household maintenance, childcare, income-generating activities, home hygiene and attendance at health centres.
  • On food value chains and marketing: A gender-sensitive value chain development approach in food crisis contexts can contribute to improving food security at household and community level and increasing self-reliance and economic inclusion: the project supported diversified crop production (groundnut, cowpea, sesame, millet) and small livestock production (mainly goats), while facilitating access to markets for women and men through partnership with WFP’s school feeding programmes and training in organizational capacities and rural entrepreneurship. An average of 86 percent of women producers increased their agricultural production while animal production increased by 126 percent among beneficiaries. The total income generated by the targeted rural women through sale of their production to supply school canteens increased eightfold. The total savings mobilized within the targeted village savings and loan associations increased from CFA Francs 0 to CFA Francs 62 931 000 (USD 126 000).
  • On partnerships: The intervention was implemented by FAO in collaboration with the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), and the World Food Programme (WFP). Creating a coordination mechanism for information exchange among the four United Nations agencies and implementing partners (local non-governmental organizations) can enable local partners to develop a greater sense of programme ownership, enhancing local take-up. Furthermore, strengthening the engagement of community and administrative leaders can help reinforce improved food and nutrition behaviour at community level.
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