The federal government has in its bid to empower women and youths in national development set up ministries and agencies with mandates to actualize that goal.Â There is currently a call for women desk in every ministry to accomplish women empowerment.
Raw Materials, Research and DevelopmentÂ Council (RMRDC), under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, is one of such agencies with a gender desk.Â In this interview, the Director General (DG) of RMRDC, Prof. Peter Azikiwe Onwualu reveals that itâ€™s impossible for any nation to develop without the empowerment of women and youths. Excerpts:
Your mandate is to integrate women into industrial development of this country through the use of local raw materials, how farÂ have youÂ Â gone in this regard?
Yes, right from the inception of the council, we realized the role of women in raw materials processing.Â In our traditional systems, we are all aware that a lot of processing activities are carried out by women. In fact, in the traditional setting, over 80 percent of activities in processing especially with respect to agro-raw materials processing are actually carried out by women. Most of these women are peasants of very low income level and we have realized this.Â We also know that not only these women but also youths require a lot of empowerment to be able to do what they are doing in a more civilised manner.
For that, the council established the women empowerment desk.Â The desk has come up with a policy which the council is currently implementing.
The policy has a road map for empowering women to be more involved in raw materials processing. What we have done in implementing that policy is to look at the entire value chain of processing and the role of women in that direction.The work has spanned through a number of areas.
The first area is to study what the women are doing, the kinds of operations they are into, how they are doing it and that study has enabled us to identify some ofÂ the challenges and constraints that the women go through.Â The next aspect of the work is to see how we can empower them to overcome those challenges.Â Some of these activities include skill acquisition. Based on that, we have trained a number of women groups to help them acquire better skills in the area of using new technologies to process raw materials.
We work with a number of women organizations and we have been able to train different numbers of women in this area.Â Going beyond that, we know thatÂ trainingÂ somebody is one thing and that the same person needs some kind of empowerment.Â One major challenge we have identified is the inability of these women to have access to finance for purchasing machines that are required for improved production, working capital, land and other infrastructure that are involved.Â Our council with regard to this aspect, intervened in the area ofÂ technology.
What we have done is to assist a number of women groups by giving them machines that they require for processing.Â Recently, the first Lady of the Federation broughtÂ seven parastatals together to work on establishing small scale industries for women in different states and RMRDC is one of such agencies. We have been able to come up with the projects that will be promoted in these states and all these projects are in the areas of raw materials processing.
Working with women is very vital because they have wider network than men and they are also parts of the less privileged in the society, so we have this duty to make sure they are empowered and by extension, empower the youths of this country.
We learnt your council has similar mandate concerning youths development, tell us more about this?
We have a programme called entrepreneurship.
A lot of our youths parade the streets in search of white – collar jobs.Â We believe that people should be able to acquire entrepreneurship skills, so they can become self employed.Â In that direction, we are in partnership with a number of organizations to drive the process of empowering our youths.
Youths corpers, youths undergoing industrial attachment and others in this category are given skills for processing different types of raw materials and with such skills can start their own businesses.Â We give them technical, financial and management skills for this purpose. We give grants for the take-off ofÂ their own businesses.
This way, we have been able to empower a few of them to start such businesses in several parts of the country. A typical example is a young man in Warri, Delta State, who has a dry-cleaning business and was producing local starch from cassava for this business. When he approached us through our Delta State office, we were able to empower him with the kind of machine that he requires and today he has shifted from dry-cleaning business to producing cassava-based starch that is well packaged for marketing.Beyond this, in every state of this federation, we conduct at least one skill acquisition training every year.
In each case, we have over 150 Nigerians being trained and most ofÂ them are youths. What we do is to give them skills for processing different types of raw materials and with such skills they can start their own businesses.
There are other several similar small scale enterprises and groups assisting different groups of young men and women to establish businesses in different parts of the country.
We do some of these things to enable them know that they can actually get involved in raw materials processing and at the same time,be useful to themselves.We also extend this youth empowerment programme to the areas of small scale farming. We have a programme of youth empowerment in cultivation of certain crops that can yield them money, especially industrial crops such as castor, ginger, moringa oleifera-a local plant that has been identified with the potentials necessary for achieving the millennium Development goals (MDGs).