The harmonies of singing women filled the air in Iyenge village as Esther Jerome, Anna Oloshuro and Mwandiwe Makame kicked off the celebrations to launch the 2012 Mama Shujaa Wa Chakula – Tanzania’s “Female Food Hero.”
This national ‘reality TV-style’ competition aims to raise awareness of the incredible achievements of female food producers across the country, whose contributions to society often go unrecognised.
Esther, Anna and Mwandiwe won the top three prizes in the 2011 competition – the first of its kind, which reached around 25 million Tanzanians through television, radio and newspapers. In 2012 the question is how to make it even bigger, so the competition has teamed up with popular reality TV show “Maisha Plus”. Anything up to 25,000 women are expected to apply or be nominated, from which 21 contestants will be selected to stay in a “reality TV village” for two weeks, where they will engage in different tasks and receive training. A one-hour daily TV show will run for 8 weeks and follow their progress. The public audience will then vote for their Female Food Hero, with the winner to be announced on World Food Day (16th October).
Hundreds of people turned up to the launch in the small rural village of Iyenge in central Tanzania – home of Esther, last year’s overall winner. “It was wonderful and amazing to see hundreds of community members come to celebrate Esther’s success and to show their support for the women farmers who grow food for their families and our nation,” said Mwanahamisi Salimu of Oxfam.
Prizes for this year’s winners will include solar panels, irrigation tools and harvesting machines. Esther – a farmer who used a special sorghum seed and managed to boost her yield from five to 75 bags a year – won a tractor, which she delightedly showed to the rest of the village. She said that farming, “like anything worthwhile in life, takes discipline and hard work. Discipline is everything. We need more discipline in agriculture if we are really determined to end food insecurity.”
At the launch, the Regional Commissioner for Dodoma (Tanzania’s national capital), Rehema Nchimbi, handed out applications to women hoping to repeat Esther’s success. Nchimbi said: “I will do everything to support women food producers because they are worth the support. They bring peace and harmony in their families and nation at large. Importantly, they bring freedom. I assure you, a food insecure family is not a free family.”
The 2011 winners have also been involved in lobbying and campaigning for change to improve conditions for small-scale women producers. Women often don’t own the land they work on, struggle to get fair access to markets, and face the threat of violence. Anna told the crowd at the launch, “My biggest challenge is the low prices in the market. We work hard ploughing and harvesting, but don’t get what we deserve.”
The launch in Iyenge was followed by a high profile event in Dodoma city and a three hour round table discussion on issues affecting small farmers in Tanzania – involving last year’s winners, civil society groups and government officials. The Honourable Mary Nagu, the Minister of Investment and Empowerment, acknowledged that there has been an overwhelming emphasis on large-scale land investments, which many farmers say threatens their livelihoods. She said she heard the concerns raised and assured people that the government intends to ensure that agricultural investment benefits small-scale producers. The Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture announced that there will be no more of the crop export bans that have so disturbed Tanzanian farmers. Everyone at the event signed pledge cards to confirm their commitment to supporting small-scale women food producers.
Since the 2011 competition, Esther, Anna and Mwandiwe have also attended and spoken at global events, such as the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum, which was held in Turkey. Esther was recently named one of Reuters’ Top 10 Global Food Trailblazers.
Sponsorship for the competition has been committed from Tanzanian companies, such as the National Microfinance Bank (NMB), and the competition is run in association with various partners, including: ActionAid, Pastoralists’ Indigenous NGO Forum (PINGOS), Rural Livelihoods Development Company (RLDC), Concern, FARAJA, INADES, MWIVATA, Care, Norwegian Church Aid, The Ngorongoro NGO Network (NGONET), and the SASA Foundation.