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Sister Martha wins Tanzania’s Female Food Hero

Sister Martha emerges from "The Village" as Female Food Hero 2012 winner. Photo: Sven Torfinn / Oxfam
Sister Martha emerges from "The Village" as Female Food Hero 2012 winner

After spending 14 days in the Maisha Plus reality TV village, Sister Martha Mwasu Waziri from Dodoma in central Tanzania was crowned as the Mama Shujaa wa Chakula (Female Food Hero) 2012 in a colourful ceremony broadcast live to millions of Tanzanians on national channel TBC1.

Huge cheers broke out the minute her name was announced. Accepting the award, Sister Martha said, “I want to share the knowledge I gained while with (the Female Food Hero competition) and it is my prayer that I will turn my farm into a demonstration farm to show others what can be done.” She also wants to build a structure to use for her youth work in her rural village of Kondoa.

The competition was set up to celebrate the achievements of small-scale women food producers and highlight the challenges they face. These women produce the food the nation eats yet get little recognition.

Sister Martha, with advice from Inades Formation, has worked hard in Kondoa to, amongst other things, recover eroded land and turn it into productive farm land. With the increasing environmental pressures from climate change and overuse of land we will need many more heroes like Martha who can literally save our land. Read more of Sister Martha’s inspiring story.

The Top Three: Sister Martha (centre), Tatu (left), Emiliana (right). Photo: Sven Torfinn/Oxfam
The Top 3 winners

The honourable January Makamba, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, was the guest of honour at the finale event. He said, “As government we’ve got the message from this initiative: Women need to be at the centre of agricultural policy and programming.”

The finale was part of events this week to mark World Food Day, making the ceremony even more symbolic as recognition to women farmers’ contribution to food production and fighting poverty.

The first runner up is Emiliana Aligaesha, a farmer and livestock keeper from Kagera region, who said she was grateful for the recognition and plans to be a role model to other women in her community. The second runner up was Tatu Abdi Juma from Tanga region, a farmer and livestock keeper who said, “After the training I received with (the competition) now I have the courage to stand and speak my mind, and when I go back home I will also train my fellow women in the village.”

Sister Martha gives her acceptance speech to the audience and TV cameras. Photo: Sven Torfinn / Oxfam
Sister Martha accepts the prize

This year’s Female Food Hero competition opened three months ago in Iyenge village in Mpwapwa, where last year’s winner Esther Jerome hails from. Since then over five thousand nominations for the 2012 award were received from across the country, out of which a panel of judges selected the 14 finalists.

The winners were chosen through public voting by cell-phone text messages combined with the feedback of facilitators who had worked with the women over the past weeks in the Maisha Plus village. While in the village the finalists went through training on issues from land rights and marketing to HIV/Aids. They also prepared as a group for the finale. All of this formed a reality TV programme that was aired daily on national television.

During this time Sister Martha proved herself a hard worker and leader. All of the top three receive cash prizes to purchase farming equipment of their choice to further improve their food production.

“Today we are celebrating women heroes who feed the world. Let us give them their rights and support they deserve,” said Monica Gorman, the head of Oxfam in Tanzania (who organised the Mama Shujaa wa Chakula initiative) in her speech at the village.

Representing other partner organizations involved in the competition, Juliana Bwire from Concern International said, “We say all women are heroes. Not only female food heroes, but (they) are our heroes in the family, community and the nation at large.”

Minister Makamba also promised to follow up on the letter that the 14 Female Food Hero finalists sent to the President of the country and to present their issues to his government.

After two weeks in the rudimentary village all the finalists have gone to spend a few days in a hotel in Dar es Salaam. They are also participating in a final workshop on gender issues, and getting ready to return to their villages as activists for women’s rights and role models for food production.

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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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