• Background to the Study

Hunger is on the increase among nations of the world. Food crisis is hurting the poor all over the world, hitting the landless and women the hardest (Karl, 2009). About 800 million people go hungry each day, globally (Canadian International Development Agency, 2003). Currently, this figure has increased to 925 million (Food and Agricultural Organization, 2010).  This situation is expected to worsen if extreme measures are not taken (International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) as cited in FAO, 2010). In Nigeria, recent estimates put the number of people that go hungry each day at over 53 million (Ajayeoba, 2010). One of the challenges confronting the global community today is how to feed the 6.6 billion inhabitants of the world. Ogbonna and Okoroafor (2004); Nabinta, Kushawha, Yahaya and Olajide (2007) contend that one of the greatest challenges facing the world, with particular focus on Africa, is to find solution to the problem of hunger and poverty. This concern is reflected in the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is, to reduce by half, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015 (Todaro and Smith, 2009:24).
However, empirical evidence has shown that rural women, most of whom are subsistence farmers, are crucial in the fight against hunger and rural poverty. Globally, more than 30% of the female workforce is engaged in agriculture, while in regions like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, more than 60% of all female employment is in this sector (International Labour Organization (ILO), 2009). According to Prakash (2003), women’s contribution to agricultural production and household food security cannot be overemphasized. They feed the world. He also noted that on the global scale, women produce more than half of all the food that is grown.
In Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80% of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, they provide from 50% to 90% of the labour for rice cultivation. And in South-east Asia and the Pacific as well as Latin America, women’s home-gardens represent some of the most complex agricultural systems known. In countries in transition, the percentage of rural women working in agriculture ranges from about a third in Bosnia and Herzegovina to more than a half in Poland. In his findings, Morvaridi, as cited in Akpinar, Talay, Celylan, and Gunduz (2003) recorded that in Turkey, women’s contribution to agriculture is immense. All over Turkey, 74% of employed women work in the agricultural sector, constituting 53.8% of the total labour force.
Majority of these rural women engage in subsistence farming. According to Kisamba-Mugerwa (2001), subsistence agriculture still dominates the working lives of more than half of world’s women. Ugwu (2009) observed that women produce up to 60% of the food consumed in the developing countries through subsistence agriculture. According to Mijindadi (1993), women are responsible for 70% of actual farm work and constitute up to 60% of the farming population in Nigeria. Also Youssef (1995) noted that the predominant occupation of rural women, especially Igbo women of South Eastern Nigeria, is agriculture. According to him, these women are associated with traditional subsistence agriculture.
In spite of their role in household food security and agricultural production, rural women face a number of constraints that affect their agricultural production, especially at the subsistence level. Some of the constraints arise from misguided development policies and programmes, and others are rooted in cultural, religious, and social institutions. As highlighted by Butt, Hassan, Mehmood and Muhammed (2010); Nazarpour and Rezaei (2011), rural women face a number of constraints in their agricultural activities. These constraints can take different forms ranging from lack of access to credit, lack of information, illiteracy, lack of access to land, non availability of agricultural extension services, lack of time resulting from their engagement in normal domestic works, to male domination and lack of recognition for their contributions in agricultural development and food production. Generally, rural women face more difficulty than men do. They often spend long hours collecting firewood and carrying it back home over long distances. The time and labour expended this way exhaust them and limit their ability to engage in other productive and income-generating activities (agriculture inclusive). Their health suffers from hauling heavy loads of firewood and water and from cooking over smoky fires.