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Addressing hunger - why women can't wait

Despite her hard work, Agatha Akakandelwa struggles to feed her family (Concern Worldwide)
Despite her hard work, Agatha Akakandelwa struggles to feed her family
Concern Worldwide

Despite working hard, Agatha Akakandelwa struggles to feed the 21 people who depend on her. As well as growing maize, cassava and vegetables, she also works on other people's farms, brews beer and sells scones. But, as a woman farmer in Zambia, Agatha has limited access to land, inputs, credit, training, extension and technologies. "There's no one who can help me, I have to fend for myself," she explains. "As an adult, I can go all day without eating and then get up and go to the field the next day, but I get really concerned for the children."

"Women play a vital, but often ignored role in addressing hunger," explains Robin Willoughby, policy officer for Concern Worldwide. "But because of their lack of voice and input into policy, they are often bypassed from the support they need." In response, Concern has launched its 'Women Can't Wait' campaign, highlighting examples of how marginalised women around the globe have successfully organised themselves and fed their families. The campaign is pressing world leaders to recognise and prioritise the crucial role of women in the fight against hunger, by letting women's voices be heard.

Recognising women

Women play a vital, but often ignored role in addressing hunger (Concern Worldwide)
Women play a vital, but often ignored role in addressing hunger
Concern Worldwide

In Zambia, Concern is working through local partners (PELUM and FOSUP*) to increase the participation of women in farmers' associations. This has involved raising awareness about the specific needs of women farmers, supporting the design and delivery of training, and equipping women with the skills to lobby government ministries and the National Farmers Union. "Through this participation it is hoped that women marginal farmers will be able to access better services, extension, agro-inputs, credit and markets either through lobbying the government, or via the farmers' associations themselves," Willoughby explains.

Florence Shakafuswa, executive director of the Katuba Women's Association of Zambia (KWASSOC), explains how her organisation is helping. "We go to a village, find out what the women are doing and help them to get resources to improve their skills," she says. In addition to providing agricultural training, and calling on the government to include women in their fertiliser support programme, KWASSOC is also training women as legal advisors so they can provide women's groups in their communities with free legal advice and support their claims to land.

Gaining autonomy

Another successful example comes from India. In Andhra Pradesh, the Deccan Development Society (DDS) has helped over 5,000 marginalised Dalit women organise themselves into sanghams, or village unions, to increase their control of food production, seeds, natural resources and markets. To overcome the constraint of not having access to land, the women lease land and cultivate it collectively. Each woman works for four to five days per season and, in return, receives roughly 60-80 kg of food crops - enough to feed a family for a month.

By establishing seed banks, women have gained status within their communities (DDS)
By establishing seed banks, women have gained status within their communities
DDS

By growing diverse crops on their farms, women have not only increased biodiversity, but have recovered over 80 traditional landraces and set up over 60 seed banks to distribute seeds within their communities. By re-establishing control over the seeds they grow and building their understanding of biodiversity, women have gained status within their communities as seed providers. The sanghams have also restored 10,000 acres of degraded common land since 1985 through efforts such as tree planting and mulching - increasing crop production by over 300 per cent.

"What started off with the intention of ensuring the simple sustenance needs of the sangham members has become a tool of empowerment for them to address the larger issues of food security, natural resource enhancement, education and health," reveals Mr P.V. Satheesh, DDS director. "The sanghams have helped to revive women's natural leadership positions in their communities, and to fight the lack of access and control over their own resources. It has given them a new-found dignity and profile in their village communities."

Prioritising women

Women often have limited access to land, inputs, credit, training, extension and technologies (Concern Worldwide)
Women often have limited access to land, inputs, credit, training, extension and technologies
Concern Worldwide

In September 2010 world leaders will meet to discuss progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); targeting that meeting, Concern is working to deliver the message that 'Women Can't Wait'. "We've got three main demands," Willoughby explains. "We're asking governments and donors to prioritise the fight against hunger and malnutrition. We also think that they should develop a clear road map and action plan of how they are going to meet this target. And we'd like them to recognise the crucial role and rights of women marginal farmers in the fight against hunger."

"Policy interventions designed to help communities become more food secure and better nourished will fail unless they take into account the specific needs and constraints faced by poor women farmers," Willoughby concludes. "As such, we are urging policymakers to recognise women marginal cultivators as farmers in their own right, to support them in participating in policymaking processes and to invest in a long term strategy of empowerment and gender equality within the wider community."

*PULUM: Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association.
FOSUP: Farmers Organisation Support Programme

Date published: September 2010

 

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