Petra interviewing cassava processors
From an early age, Petra Abdulsalam Saghir, was fascinated by agriculture. She describes it as rich and lively. Her grandmother had given her a small plot of land from where she developed her ‘green fingers’. She remembers watching and waiting anxiously for her plants to sprout. Saghir was also captivated by the other activities that revolved around agriculture. If it wasn’t the jovial social interactions, it was the support networks that fellow farmers had established for themselves when engulfed by poor harvests or some other form of hardship. But there was also the exposure to the relegation and hardship that women had to endure as they balanced farming and family life. The significance of all these experiences solidly put her foot on the right track, choosing agriculture as a profession.
Saghir is excited by the work that she does and has set out big dreams for herself and her sector, and this enthusiasm stretches beyond the borders of her home country, Nigeria.
“My role as gender and livelihood specialist is helping me to develop, strengthen and mentor smallholder farmers, youth in agriculture, colleagues, project partners and upcoming business experts to sustain Nigerian agriculture, and even recently, to sustain small–medium scale enterprises in West Africa,” says Saghir. Her dream is to be become a minister either for agriculture or gender in order to promote policies that are gender focused in Nigeria’s agricultural sector and in agricultural based institutions.
Saghir has always been interested in understanding the relationship between the rural community, health, poverty, gender and agricultural productivity. During her early days in research, she argued for a greater understanding of the role of women in managing natural resources and how this impacts levels of poverty. She points out that agriculture on the continent is transitioning with gender and diversity getting a more prominent role in the development of various value chains, and in product and programme development.
“Agriculture is now assuming its rightful place of securing food for Africa’s teeming population because now, Africa is gaining ground to feed herself. Previously, a lot of actors who were not recognized as active stakeholder, especially women, are now getting due global recognition,” notes Saghir.
Saghir has definitely positioned herself professionally. She is able to use her skills and passion to champion for improved agriculture and food security, and also call for greater gender considerations in the wider sector.
Her work experience began with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) funded ‘Cassava: Adding Value for Africa’ (C:AVA) project, as a gender specialist. She states that her work in mainstreaming gender issues prepared her for the AWARD Fellowship which she applied for the 2009. Saghir believes the AWARD Fellowship has made her become a well-rounded person, enhanced her professional skills and exposed her to the journey of being mentored and mentoring.
Currently, she is involved in the second phase of CAVA where she is still working on cassava value chains with small, medium and larger entrepreneurs with the ultimate aim of increasing the productivity and performance of the various stake-holders. Saghir is grateful for this opportunity as it allows her to continue to do the work that she loves most, that is, impacting small holder famers and the families across various countries on the continent.
“Heavy investment, passion and encouragement of sustainable development of agriculture in Africa by the BMGF has opened windows of opportunities for the growth of smallholder farmers, and this is changing their lives and putting food on their tables,” says a proud Saghir.
Download: Petra Abdulsalam Saghir, 2009 AWARD Fellow, Nigeria