The ‘root’ to women’s empowerment
Growing up in rural south-east Nigeria, as the first born child in my family, I assisted my mum in her small business as she struggled to make a living. When the opportunity to go and live with my aunt in eastern Nigerian arose, I was excited; I thought I would be relieved from the hard work at home. Unknown to me, I moved from the frying pan into the fire.
My aunt, Maureen, was a cassava farmer who struggled to make a living from growing, harvesting, and then the laborious work of processing the cassava into finished products — which is tedious, back-breaking and time-consuming. Together, we worked to earn enough money to afford food and occasionally medicines. It was in the furnace of these painful childhood experiences that my vision for Kadosh Production Company (KPC) was born.
KPC helps poor women cassava farmers have better livelihood by making processing easier and sales of finished cassava products more profitable. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, an edible starchy tuberous root which is a major source of carbohydrate. Whilst women contribute around 70 per cent of the total labour required to produce, process, market and distribute it, they earn just 17 per cent of the total associated income, this imbalance has very real impact.
Rita is a 35 year old woman with three children living in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. Cassava farming and processing is the main source of livelihood for Rita. It usually takes her three to four days to process 100kg of cassava into finished products like garri, fufu or starch. From the income she’s able to feed her children one meal per day, but she cannot pay for them to go to school.
When I asked Rita, how much profit she makes from her sales of the processed cassava, she said to me “$2”. I was stunned and infuriated. How can a woman with three children spend 11 hours a day for three to four days making a product and only earn a profit of $2 from it? This is the case for two million poor women cassava farmers in Nigeria and across West Africa who are stuck in vicious cycle of back-breaking labour and limited economic opportunity.
The agricultural system and cassava value-chain continues to dis-empower these women by constraining their livelihoods and productivity. This is a widespread systemic-problem affecting a significant population of women in Nigeria and other cassava-producing sub-Saharan countries. Witnessing this economic ills and reflecting on my “painful past”, stirred a burning desire and vision to bring an end to the struggle of cassava farmers in Nigeria.
So what if; what if poor women farmers could have a better livelihood processing this same cassava?
Kadosh Production Company (KPC) aims to enhance cassava processing efficiency for local women farmers in Nigeria by:
- Utilising an integrated mechanised plant that processes and packages cassava into finished products 200 per cent faster for mainstream household and industrial consumption
- Providing a discounted and speedy processing service for the local women cassava farmers in exchange for their cassava peels.
- Selling the five tonnes of “waste” peels produced daily to livestock farmers as feeds for their goats, sheep, or pigs instead of burning them to release CO2.
KPC enables women cassava farmers to produce more profitable cassava products and the reduction in processing time means that they can take their products to market more frequently.
Because Rita does not have enough time to process her cassava, she sells the majority of her crop at a very low whole root price. But with KPC’s help today, Rita is now able to process cassava in four hours instead of four days, so she can take her product to the market more frequently and earn more than 70 per cent profit within the same three days she would have struggled to do it manually. Her children can afford to eat three times daily and go to school, she can pay her debts and even save to purchase more land and plant more crops to grow her income sustainably. I started KPC to make processing easier and the sales of cassava products more profitable for women like Rita and my aunt.
With our help, women like Rita can benefit from the research that we have done developing new variant cassava species in partnership with the international Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria. Rita can plant KPC’s variant of cassava which has the amazing potential to double her yield from 15 tonnes per acre to 30 tonnes per acre which she can now process in our factory and expect to increase her income by four times! KPC currently impacts 300 women farmers and 5,000 households.
My vision is to build a social enterprise that creates a future where female cassava farmers are healthy and economically empowered in a way that is sustainable, increases their livelihoods, reduces waste, and brings about food security. The story of Rita makes me believe in the saying that says “when you empower a woman, you empower a nation”, so join me today so we can empower more women for our great nation.
By Cynthia Ndubuisi Mene, CEO and Founder of Kadosh Production Company (KPC).
KPC was a finalist in the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Award. Find out more about the award, all seven 2016 finalists and our partners: the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide.
This article first appeared on Virgin on September 5, 2016.