Studies have shown that cultural norms in Sub-Saharan Africa have long encouraged women to engage in various agricultural activities to provide food for their households. This has never been truer than in Bayelsa State, where farming and providing food for the family is considered a woman's duty. Faced with limited access to land, credit, extension services and inputs as well as rising levels of annual floods, environmental degradation and pests, among other constraints in addition to their reproductive role, most often women do not produce enough food for their households, and many of these households lack food security.

Dr Tonya Odubo’s research project, “Women’s Land Rights and Agricultural Development in Bayelsa State”, looks into these circumstances. She is studying women’s rights to land and agricultural development in Bayelsa State to ascertain the role of women in agriculture, examine women’s land rights and access to land, and analyse household food security.

She has interviewed women farmers in all eight local governments in Bayelsa state to ascertain the active contributions of women in agriculture and food security. Dr Odubo says limited access to land limits agricultural productivity and that recommendations of her study are expected to enable women to be honestly heard and considered in development, not just for political correctness but with conscious efforts and commitment to the development of agriculture.

During her research project, she experienced rising levels of annual floods in person: “While waiting for my funding, the river level rose, indicating an impending flood. I increased the number of teams from two to five, going out concurrently to different communities to cover more ground faster. We still had to take a break when the flood occurred, and continuing was physically dangerous.” She hired boats in areas her teams should have been able to walk to. In some cases, the boats could not reach the targeted farms due to areas of higher ground. “We parked the canoes and continued on foot only to meet another swamp that sometimes got to our chests. I should add that I cannot swim – fortunately, most of my research assistants could.

“It also became dangerous to paddle canoes to the farms due to the high velocity of the river current, so we had to hire engine boats and spend more days on the interviews than expected. Some days, we could only visit two respondents. We continued after the flood receded. I decided to start harvest data collection soon after, as the flood had ensured that all that could be harvested was harvested.

“We parked the canoes and continued on foot only to meet another swamp that sometimes got to our chests. I should add that I cannot swim – fortunately, most of my research assistants could.

I added a new set of questions to collect data on flood information dissemination because I realised that it was odd that farmers in this region, who are no strangers to annual floods, seem to have been caught unaware and were in a harvest frenzy during our fieldwork.”

She visited and interviewed representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment and the State Emergency Management Agency in Bayelsa State to gather more data on flood information dissemination and the Ministry of Agriculture's role in creating an enabling environment for women to thrive in agriculture. Many women reported that they have had no contact with extension agents. She envisions that the output of women will not match input due to the crop loss during the flood.

Heidi Sonnekus | FAR-LeaF Program


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.