March 7, 2024

Salamatu-WOFAN: One Woman’s Ferocious Fight Against Family Hunger And Poverty In Nigeria – By Prof. MK Othman


Nigeria, as a developing country, has a pocket of rotten eggs but is endowed with kindhearted people who give a helping hand to people in need. Hajia Salamatu Garba is a benevolent personality who founded the Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN) to provide hope to the hopeless.

The story of WOFAN creation is a heartwarming and motivational tale of how an act of kindness from one person can spark a lifetime dedication to helping the unfortunate and rescuing those in need.

One bright sunny day, Hajia and her students of Biological Sciences at Ahmadu Bello University waited for the driver of the Departmental vehicle to go for field practicals in nearby villages. The driver failed to show up; Hajia, a tenacious woman, hardly accepted failure and thus decided to drive the students in her car for the practical.

Her decision to drive the vehicle became an entry point that completely changed her life from a university lecturer to a dogged fighter against family hunger and poverty.

While Hajia was driving through a village, she saw a pregnant woman carrying a heavy load on her head and holding a toddler’s hand, obviously coming from farm work to her house for another cycle of toil, cooking, washing, etc at home front.

Despite the poverty surrounding the young mother’s family, she was delighted with her friendship with Hajia. Out of ecstasy, the village woman pledged to name her unborn baby Salamatu—a namesake to her new friend, an action symbolizing high cultural respect and regard for her new friend and mentor, Hajia Salamatu. After some months, Hajia visited her friend-mentee to see the new baby but was shocked to find that the lady had died during childbirth.

Hajia was devastatingly sad because of the surrounding challenges of the poverty-ridden pregnant woman – malnutrition, illiteracy, poor access to healthcare, quality food, and other necessities of life, which significantly contributed to her premature death. The shock of the lady’s death changed Hajia’s pity on the women’s burdens—poverty, societal disadvantage, weak to her lifelong resolve to fight hunger ferociously and poverty bedeviling women – family, a kind of social justice crusade.

The incidence of driver’s failure to show up became a blessing to hundreds of thousands of Nigerian women and youth who continue to benefit from Hajia’s struggle against the twin evils of hunger and poverty.

Being an intelligent woman, Haji Salamatu is aware that resolution is a mere statement, but backing the resolution with action requires an in-depth intellectual propensity in a world full of injustice. She set up a platform for championing her resolution, the Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN). Initially, Hajia Salamatu made the mistake of thinking that women could do it all alone, so WOFAN was originally a gender-biased, 100% women-dominated organization.

Hajia’s odyssey started with overwhelming challenges from the male-dominated society in the north, which overshadowed her objectives of relieving women’s burdens due to gender-related imbalance. She was seen as someone trying to change the orientation of women from being submissive homemakers and mothers to aggressive partners with equal rights and freedom. Her crusade coincided with the period when the apostles of women’s liberation under the auspices of “Women in Nigeria (WIN)” advocated women’s freedom and equality.

Members of WIN were seen dressing in shorts and tee shirts matching on the streets as a symbol of equality with men, a kind of abominable act in the north. So, Hajia’s struggle was mistaken for the WIN agitation. However, after four years of Hajia’s persistent struggle focusing on women’s empowerment against hunger and the dying of WIN agitation, society started accepting Hajia’s mission. Still, women’s mobilization from house to house became strenuous and daunting, with discouraging results.

A woman cannot be separated from her family; while a man is the ceremonial head of the family, a woman is the backbone and pillar on which the family is built. Women are synonymous with family. Hajia Salamatu returned to the drawing board with a better strategy: rebirthing WOFAN from 100% women to 80% and 20% men, focusing on youth from 18 to 35 years of age.

This formula becomes a magic wand for achieving her lifelong resolve of hunger removal and poverty alleviation. It has now been three decades since the ferocious fight was launched. What are the successes and challenges of Hajia Salamatu’s fight against family hunger and poverty?

Of course, success examples abound, including young and not-so-young women and men whose lives have been positively touched by WOFAN interventions. Of course, success stories abound in the form of young and not-so-young women and men whose lives have been positively impacted by WOFAN interventions over the years.

Many tell stories of enhanced income due to improved production and processing capacities because of the training provided by WOFAN and support for their groups to start small enterprises for sustainable growth, slowly but surely helping them beat the excruciating poverty that has been their lot for many years.

As a result of Hajia’s passion and resolution, these women and men are becoming major contributors to their local economy, and they are now consulted when significant decisions are to be taken in the community.

Hajia envisages challenges and often sets out mitigation strategies to manage them. The most exciting part is that she confronts challenges with the same energy she pursues her passion. For instance, she believes that a poor extension service delivery system is a significant challenge for food production in the country.

Today, she is at the forefront of substantial stakeholders pushing for national legislation for efficient extension service delivery to improve food sufficiency.

And she is confronting this challenge with uncommon ferocity! Hajia mobilized members of the National Assembly, members of federal and state executive councils, and prominent stakeholders relying on legislating the Agricultural Extension Revitalization Bill. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development took eight years to develop the extension policy.

However, it is taking Hajia less than three months to push for legislating some aspects of the policy to enable its optimum implementation for effective service delivery—what an uncommon feat for a ferocious fighter! 

The successes of Hajia Salamatu under the platform of her profound pet, WOFAN, in the last three decades, are countable and uncountable.  Starting with uncountable successes, WOFAN has conservatively impacted the lives of over seven million Nigerians through capacity building and entrepreneurship along the agricultural value chains across ten states in Nigeria.

On the countable list of successes, WOFAN has touched and empowered 150,000 people annually in the last five years, on average. Presently, WOFAN is implementing an Integrated Community-led Network of Hope Scale-up (ICON2) project targeting 675,000 people for a three-year project duration within the age bracket of between 18 and 35 years.

The Master Card Foundation funds the ICON 2 project in Nigeria. The target beneficiaries were formed into groups of 30 members each. They had marketable and employable entrepreneurship skills, access to quality inputs, labor-saving technologies, and financial and extension services and markets. They were networked and equipped with the knowledge, helpful information, and capacity to influence change processes.

The project implementation’s scorecard is impressive and astonishing, as WOFAN bypassed its annual target of 225,000 people when it empowered 327,686 (146%) women and youth in the project’s first year. Among the beneficiaries were 17,500 ultra-poor people, 12,750 persons with disabilities (PWD), and 6,100 internally displaced persons (IDP) across ten states.

Through the project intervention, WOFAN increases the productivity of the smallholder farmers with an increased rice yield from an average of 1.5 tons/ha to 5 tons and maize from 1.8 tons/ha to 6 tons/ha, among many stable crops over 100,000 hectares of farmland across the ten project implementation states.

Hajia Salamatu-WOFAN is a veritable force in the fight against family hunger and poverty in Nigeria, which originated from the human kindness and pity of one woman, Hajia Salamatu Garba, a social justice crusader, immensely contributing to achieving food security in Nigeria. May we have more Hajia Salamatus in our midst, amen.