All over the world, many people now understand the importance of pulling their resources together for greater benefits.

In Boje, an agrarian community in Cross River State, this practice is becoming more popular as many women are forming themselves into trade or farming groups or cooperatives.  They do so, not only to access funds from government or donor agencies but to learn more about modern farming methodologies to improve their produce.

One of the many cooperative societies formed to bolster the fortunes of Boje women is the Offer of Opportunities for Women and Children (OJO-WACNET).  It is aimed at building entrepreneurial and leadership skills of women in rural communities, thereby empowering women and girls in Boje.

This cooperative society has, for instance, set up a massive community farm, where they cultivate pepper and other cash crops.  They were looking forward to commissioning the farm during this year’s World Food Day, October 16, 2020, but unfortunately that didn’t happen due to unforseen circumstances. However, a later date for the commissioning will soon be fixed.

The women have worked tirelessly, clearing, tilling and planting pepper seedlings.

The coordinator of the group, Florence Kekong, said the bird’s eye pepper was enjoying huge support from well-meaning Boki dignitaries. She added that they began to mobilise rural women to rise against poverty by pulling their resources together, and this gave birth to what they called Rural-Urban March against Poverty.

She further said they were also considering drilling a borehole at the pepper farm, so that there would be water to grow the produce at all seasons.

“With water, the expansion of the farm will be possible so that plenty food is produced. We don’t want the women to farm for a season and stop because they will be unable to meet the demands of off-takers,” she said.

She said the bird’s eye pepper project was to consolidate on the success the dawadawa business for Irruan women brought to them. She added that they would not want to depend on their husbands or the state government.

“Our goal is to produce healthy food to boost nutrition and economic growth of women and girls in rural areas, as well as build their entrepreneurial skills.

We have been at work with rural women and girls, trying to build them to start their own innovative developmental programmes that truly enhance their livelihoods.

Through our cooperative, we have initiated programmes in some communities that have empowered our rural women to own their own businesses. People have noted our efforts, and we keep appealing for public support to enable us empower more women, not only with farming inputs but also connections,’’ Kekong said.

She said they could not afford to wait for government to do all things for them, adding that they started with nothing but there’s hope for better days for Boje women.

She said they wanted to use the Rural Women Farmers’ Day celebration in Boje, which will snowball into the World Food Day, to project rural women farmers to global recognition.

She explained that women in Boje community were chosen for the celebration because of the difficult terrain of their area, which has made it almost impossible for development programmes to thrive there. She added that poor information had left the women hugely disadvantaged and marginalised.

“So far, the women have made us proud as they intelligently keyed into our concept of Rural Urban March against Poverty (RUBAN-MAP) in Africa. This has equipped them with knowledge and skills to change the narrative for rural women and girls,’’ she added.

Kekong further said the enthusiasm of the women ignited the interest of willing investors when they saw them clearing the farms, tilling the ground and planting the pepper without looking elsewhere.

Mrs Anna Dibang, a member of the cooperative says, she has learnt so much from the new way of farming. She hinted that she didn’t know that farmers could make so much money from farming pepper. “To think we have been lazy about planting, as the community people view pepper farming as a lazy man’s work.

“One great achievement, we have made so far is that we have been able to work as a team. We were known for never being able to work together as a team, but today it’s a different story. We are farming happily together.”

Another member, Mrs Paulina Obi Tah said that they didn’t know about the health benefits of the Bird’s Eye pepper, until now and so, she remains grateful to the initiators for bringing the project to Boje.

“Boje is the headquarters of Boki local government area, but because of its long distance from all other communities, coupled with its very rough terrains. Development has been nothing to write home about before now, especially for women. It has given us some sort of financial independence.”

Also speaking, the community mobilisation officer for RUBAN-MAP Africa, Mrs Esther Okon, said the love and commitment they showed from the onset of the programme was worth more investment.

“My heart is full of joy because this is the first time a worthy project was brought to us. Nobody seemed to remember the people here,” she said.

Mrs Rose Osang Achu, the liaison officer of RUBAN-MAP Africa, confessed that initially, she doubted that the programme would be a success when the cooperative society introduced the concept, but today, success is all she could see.

She revealed that at a point, the women began interactions with one of the investors, Dr Tony Wemton, the chief executive officer of Wemton Agricultural Development and Advisory Services (WADAS). And the result is manifesting today.

Again, a community woman leader, Mrs Kate Kekong, noted that this was indeed a new kind of life that Boje women were experiencing and really believing in real change. She thanked the organisers for the good gesture and assured them that the women would make them more proud.

This year’s World Rural Women Day, with the theme, “Building Rural Women’s Resilience in the Wake of COVID-19,” will culminate into the celebration of World Food Day, with the theme, “Smart Solutions for Healthy Diets.” These will be combined with the World Hand Washing Day, with the theme, “Hand Hygiene for All,” which follows the recent global initiative calling on all society to scale up hand washing, especially with soap.

The OJO-WACNET, which is building entrepreneurial and leadership skills of women in rural communities for enhanced livelihood, is expected to lead those supporting the empowerment of women and girls in the community to celebrate in grand style. The celebration, which is set to take place at Boje, is planned to last for two days.

Explaining the concept, Florence Kekong, the founder and president of the society, explained that the two days were specially chosen to give rural women farmers the encouragement that would give them global recognition as the world  would be reading and hearing their voices everywhere.