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Meeting female food heroes in Tanzania

Hawana with an entry form for Female Food Hero 2012. Photo: Marc Wegerif/Oxfam
Hawana with Female Food Hero 2012 entry form

Today we were in Zinga village, near Bagamoyo in Tanzania, meeting with women farmers to promote the Female Food Hero 2012 awards (Mama Shujaa wa Chakula). The women shared some of their achievements and the challenges they still face.

26-year-old Hawana showed us her farm, where she grows cassava, cashew nuts and other crops. As we harvested some of the cassava, Hawana said that in this village cassava is known as “our saviour. With the cassava we feed our families, have been able to send our children to school, and buy ourselves clothes to be able to look as good as we do today.”

Hawana explained the many uses of the cassava. “We cook and eat the leaves. We harvest the roots and dry and grind them into flour to cook into porridge. We re-plant part of the stem to get the next crop, and we use what remains for firewood.”

Hawana and the other women waste nothing and make the most of their natural resources. But while they benefit from the cassava they are struggling to get enough land for planting.

We heard how a large part of the village’s land was taken by a new Export Processing Zone, limiting the land that can now be allocated for the women to farm.

Mwanahamisi Salimu, one of the competition organisers, speaks to the media. Photo: Marc Wegerif/Oxfam
Mwanahamisi Salimu, one of the competition organisers, speaks to the media

Other challenges the women face include trying to get a fair price for their cassava. The person with the mill is getting more money per sack than the farmers who plant, grow and harvest the crops. The women also said they lack the machinery to plough larger amounts of land and still depend on the hand hoe. “But we are strong and still work,” one said.

After we visited some of the farms, the women gathered to share more. Mwajuma Mabewa captured the importance of food when she declared that, “There’s no peace in the home when there is no food.”

Village leaders, ward councillors, the District Commissioner, and the media, joined the meeting in the village to hear the women share their experiences.

“The biggest challenge we face in land ownership is evictions from our ancestral homes by the government, and losing our land in the process,” said Halima Mwinshehe.

But there were signs of hope. Before, many women did not know their rights. “Now at least we know that we as women have the right to own land,” said Kishindo Hamisi.

Mwanahamisi Rumondo was the only women there with irrigation. She now grows 60 sacks of rice a year on her half-hectare of irrigated land. Other women told us what they have achieved through farming – including sending their children to school, with many expressing the sense of freedom they get from having their own income.

Briskila Jerome – a visitor from Nigeria, where she won the Female Food Hero competition there – gave words of encouragement to the Tanzanian women farmers. “If men are not capable, we women will farm and support our families. We are capable! We will feed our families!”

She then distributed nomination forms for the 2012 competition to the women gathered. Any women who are making a special contribution to ensuring that all people always have enough to eat can enter or be nominated.

About 100 people ended the day sharing futari (breaking of the fast) with the Muslim villagers celebrating Ramadan.

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Written by Marc Wegerif

Marc Wegerif

Marc Wegerif coordinates Oxfam's Economic Justice campaign in East Africa, working with partners to bring about fair policies for small farmers, pastoralists and communities affected by climate change. He is based in Tanzania

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