Rita Robert Otu
Rita Robert Otu studied masters in International Development (Economics and Management of Rural Development) at the Global Development Institute. She returned to Nigeria in 2009 and was inspired to start the Peas Food project, providing education and teaching green skills to young women.
Rita says investing in women’s farming was always a priority for her. “With a family history in farming and having grown up watching and follow my parents on the farm, perhaps it’s no surprise I’ve ended up where I have. I was a facilitator for Girls Power Initiative and I knew the challenges faced by women in Nigeria.”
“I told myself I must change the narrative and empower women through agriculture. Agriculture is everywhere and women are already producing food. In Nigeria, farming practices, education, and food accessibility also have a deep impact on the lives of women. Women are responsible for the upkeep of the family and the entire community. In order to guarantee the process of fighting hunger and face this challenge, women farmers are the key.”
She led innovative programs such as an agricultural pageant (Miss Teen Agriculture) for teenage girls to celebrate the agriculture industry and local farmers while promoting girls’ self-esteem and leadership.
She now has over 1,000 registered women farmers on her network. She led the first Girl’s Farmers’ Club in secondary schools in Nigeria; produces an educational radio program for smallholder farmers, which reaches 250,000 listeners daily; and oversees school and community gardens focused on entrepreneurial development.
She is also the founder of PEAS Foundation – a non-governmental organisation initiating a network of projects and programs focussed on increasing environmental sustainability awareness, poverty reduction, girls’ and women’s empowerment and education.
Peas Foundation has reached more than 3,000 women and girls in Nigeria with its innovative agribusiness outreach, field training, farm business development, environmental education and entrepreneurial workshops with the support from her Donors Niger Delta Development Commission and Harvest Plus.
Rita says that tackling the challenges facing women farmers in Nigeria are not insubstantial; and cites the main issues for women in agriculture as: access to credit and property rights, access to technology, access to markets and education. Through the Peas Foundation, she aims to tackle them one by one. She has launched the Airtel Female Farmers’ Club, a mobile price plan offering special rates and a range of information services to young female farmers in Nigeria.
“Emancipating women farmers from abject poverty and giving them confidence and dignity has always been my passion. In Nigeria, women constitute 70% of the labour force yet they face a lot of structural barriers such as lack of access to markets, and land; and limited access to transport for their produce or to trade with buyers.
As a Nigerian, I have a responsibility to grow women’s voice in agriculture. When a woman is empowered, it trickles down to the roots!”
Rita’s work has not gone unnoticed. She was a mentee at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and in 2018 she was awarded the British Council Entrepreneurial Award in recognition of her work on ending hunger in Nigeria.