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Women farmers take centre stage in policy development

TPA performances are conducted in the open air, under trees or on the sports grounds of schools (© FANRPAN)
TPA performances are conducted in the open air, under trees or on the sports grounds of schools
© FANRPAN

In December 2011, researchers from Malawi's Bunda College of Agriculture presented findings from a study of the country's agriculture support systems to the media, civil society leaders and decision-makers. They recounted a story of frustration and disappointment with various government initiatives, including distribution of agricultural inputs, credit schemes and technologies. What made their findings remarkable, however, was that they were not generated by research questionnaires but through community theatre.

Theatre for Policy Advocacy (TPA) is at the heart of a pilot project that aims to strengthen the capacity of women farmers in Malawi and Mozambique to influence agricultural policy development. "The power of the TPA methodology lies in the fact that, in rural Africa, a theatrical performance is a major social event," explains Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of FANRPAN, the African policy research and advocacy network that has been implementing the Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project. "TPA performances are conducted in the open air, under trees or on the sports grounds of schools and hundreds of people from all walks of life attend."

The power of theatre

TPA performances are structured around issues that are critical and unique to particular communities (© FANRPAN)
TPA performances are structured around issues that are critical and unique to particular communities
© FANRPAN

TPA performances are structured around issues that are critical and unique to particular communities. In Malawi, a theatre development company called Story Workshop has helped women farmers to package advocacy messages in the form of theatre scripts. One story, from Sokelele village in Malawi, shows how a woman farmer is cheated by officials when trying to redeem input vouchers distributed by the government. Never-ending queues, vendors who sell queue positions and agro-dealers who ask for more money than is allowed, prevent her from redeeming her fertiliser voucher. In the end, a lack of fertiliser results in a poor harvest and her family going hungry.

To discuss issues arising from the drama and propose solutions to women's challenges, each performance is followed by a series of facilitated discussions involving men and women, youth, community leaders, government officials and NGO staff. Issues generated from the performances are recorded and communicated to policymakers, researchers, farmers' organisations, development NGOs and relevant private sector organisations at national and regional levels.

Early success

Each performance is followed by a series of facilitated discussions (© FANRPAN)
Each performance is followed by a series of facilitated discussions
© FANRPAN

Performances by six theatre groups in Malawi and two groups in Mozambique have already attracted thousands of people and enabled women farmers to communicate their livelihood stories to local leaders, government officials and development organisations. In Mozambique, 74 year old Marta Machava, applauds the TPA model for policy dialogue as "the perfect way to share experiences and challenges between us women farmers." Lezinathi Daniel, a farmer from Sekolele, Lilongwe District, Malawi, agrees: "I have always wanted this kind of forum to raise my issues."

In Malawi, the Minister of Finance, Honourable Ken Kadondo, who participated in one of the community performances, commended the use of theatre to stimulate dialogue on critical issues affecting women farmers. After one theatre performance to 400 people in Marracuane, Mozambique, audience members highlighted the struggle faced by women to sell their surplus produce at markets. In response, the Administrator of Manhiça and a representative of the Mozambican Forum of Rural Women pledged their support to help rural women get access to production inputs and fair markets.

Boosting impact

In December 2011, CISANET, the FANRPAN node hosting institution in Malawi, convened a national policy dialogue to share research findings from the WARM project. Bunda College researchers highlighted the need to improve existing input and output distribution structures, credit schemes, technologies and policies to ensure that the needs of women are addressed. Responding to these recommendations, Honourable Davie Luka MP, Chair of the Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, acknowledged that women farmers faced many barriers in agricultural markets.

Through theatre, women have gained self-confidence (© FANRPAN)
Through theatre, women have gained self-confidence
© FANRPAN

Teresa Sumbane, a woman from Marracuane District in Mozambique, is one smallholder whose voice has been heard: "When I was invited to take part in a dialogue with the State President, Hon Guebuza, I was able to clearly articulate the needs of my fellow women farmers," she says. "TPA has empowered women farmers to speak out about their challenges," says Dr. Sibanda. "They now have the confidence to engage policymakers and provide information that supports their quest for an improved livelihood."

As the pilot phase of the WARM project ends, FANRPAN is preparing to share results and findings across the 16 member countries and address the policy challenges raised so far in Malawi and Mozambique. Best practices need to be incorporated into policy and implemented at scale, says the network. "This project can be used as a blueprint and, with appropriate support, can be rolled out across Africa," Dr. Sibanda concludes.

* The WARM project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Written by: Sithembile Mwamakamba, Programme Manager, FANRPAN and Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO, FANRPAN

Date published: May 2012

 

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