Nigerian Women Farmers Team with Dairy Giants to Earn More From Milk

Using the skills and market access they get through a program run by a Dutch dairy corporation, women farmers in Nigeria are finally able to help support their families, challenging deeply entrenched attitudes about traditional gender roles.

Written by Festus Iyorah Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Women farmers in Alaga, Nigeria, attend a training session to learn how to hygienically collect and store raw milk. Many are now sharing in their household expenses, challenging cultural norms in a culture where men usually provide for their families.Festus Iyorah

ALAGA, Nigeria – Every morning, Ayisat Mohammed wakes at 5:30 a.m. to milk some of the 50 or so cows she keeps in this sleepy town in Oyo state, southwest Nigeria.

When she’s done, Ayisat, 40, transfers the raw milk into a container, which she and her husband take to the town’s milk-collection center. There, the milk is tested before being transported to the town of Iseyin, where it’s cooled and tested again. Then it travels 125 miles (200km) in a refrigerated tanker to the Lagos depot of one of the world’s largest dairy corporations.

Seven years ago, Ayisat was barely scraping by, making about 3,600 naira ($10) a week selling cheese around town. Now she brings in 8,400 naira ($23) a week as one of the 200 female dairy farmers in Alaga who make a living supplying raw milk to Dutch multinational Friesland Campina through its Dairy Development Program (DDP).

The program, which was launched in Asia in the 1980s before coming to Africa in the 2000s, trains smallholder dairy farmers in collecting raw milk, hygienically, with the aim of helping communities achieve food security while also expanding the company’s milk supply chain. The Nigerian arm of the program was established in 2011 across five towns in Oyo state.

“The program gives local farmers access to skills and knowledge to help them raise the safety and quality of the raw milk they produce,” Friesland Campina’s regional DDP manager, Sybren Attema, says. “[It] also increases farm productivity and supports farmers by improving access to markets for their products.”

The program focuses on female farmers because “women play an important role in agriculture, including dairy farming,” Attema says.

Last year alone, 920 women in Oyo state were trained as part of the program. The farmers are shown how to collect milk hygienically and store it in aluminum buckets. Friesland Campina extension officers regularly visit the farmers to give follow-up training and support, and run spot checks on the milk’s quality.

Investing in Women

Ologun Olakunle, an investment banker based in Nigeria, says a program like this is win-win: it benefits the women farmers with training and a steady income while also ensuring the corporation has a regular supply of clean, raw milk. “Major corporations will find it financially beneficial,” he says.

The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), a United States-based nonprofit multinational organization, is also confident that the model is good for farmers and companies alike. Since 2012 the Alabama-headquartered IFDC, which focuses on increasing and sustaining food security and agricultural productivity, has been linking smallholder farmers with major organizations such as Nestle and the Nigerian Brewery. Farmers receive training on how to produce and supply quality raw materials such as maize, sorghum, vegetables and cow milk, and the corporations keep their supplies topped up.

“Currently we have an average of 73,000 smallholders farmers, out of which 29 percent are women,” says Thompson Ogunsanmi, IFDC country agribusiness portfolio leader.

One thing the IFDC learned once it launched the program was that women are much more vulnerable in terms of integrating into the agriculture value chain.

“Most times, women have limited information on how to succeed in a value chain or are hindered in some way – like where women are not expected to own land due to cultural bias,” Ogunsanmi says. “What we do is bridge that gap through programs, seminars and workshops.”

Making Money and Changing Attitudes

According to Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, women account for 75 percent of the country’s farming population, and are usually responsible for tasks such as feeding livestock, rearing young animals, milking, cleaning and bookkeeping. But opportunities for women to make good money or advance their careers in agriculture are limited.

“Typically, women achieve yields that are 20–30 percent lower than men because of a lack of access to [things like] productive resources and services.”

“Typically, women achieve yields that are 20–30 percent lower than men because of a lack of access to productive resources and services,” says Attema at Friesland Campina.

The women involved in the program say it has given them some financial independence – for the first time in their lives, they don’t need to ask their husbands for money to buy food or other necessities.

Ayisat Mohammed, 40, was barely scraping by producing and selling cheese curds, but now makes a good living providing raw milk to the Dutch multinational dairy corporation Friesland Campina. (Festus Iyorah)

The female farmers’ newfound economic autonomy is also changing the community’s attitudes toward the roles of men and women. Patriarchal norms are deeply entrenched in parts of rural Nigeria, with men responsible for providing all a family’s food and other needs. But since the women in Alaga have been making their own money, they have been sharing in the family spending.

Sulaimon Adam’s wife, Hawau, has been delivering raw milk to the collection center every day since joining the program last year. Adam, 22, says his wife has been supporting the family financially since she started making a profit.

“Anything the house needs, like palm oil and other food items, she buys it from the money she makes supplying raw milk.”

“Anything the house needs, like palm oil and other food items, she buys it from the money she makes supplying raw milk,” Adam says, smiling.

For Ayisat Mohammed in Alaga, being part of the program has helped ease her financial stress and lets her spend more time with her family and friends.

“Supplying milk is better than selling cheese,” she says, flashing a wide grin. “After milking my cow in the morning, I rest. I will never sell cheese again.”

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