Women grow and prepare much of the world’s food, overcoming the increasing environmental pressure from climate change, yet such efforts are rarely acknowledged. That’s why Ethiopia’s first ever Female Food Heroes competition was set up – to celebrate the nation’s remarkable women who successfully feed their families, communities and country, and to call for more to be done to improve their situation.
When the competition launched in July 2012, over 300 women applied or were nominated from all over Ethiopia. Four judges – made up from local NGOs, government ministries and universities – eventually chose 12 finalists, who embarked on a week of training before this week’s exciting final award night where the overall winners were chosen.
It was a daunting exercise to select a few winners who showed special resourcefulness and determination, as so many of the women go through enormous hardship on a daily basis but still manage to put food on the table despite their limited resources.
Building on a similar successful competition in Tanzania, the competition aimed to promote wider recognition of small-scale female food producers, and celebrate their efforts to grow more food in an equitable and sustainable way. The competition was set up by Oxfam and its local partner the Forum for Environment (FFE) as part of a nationwide multi-agency project, Together for a Food Secure Ethiopia, to stimulate discussion on how the country can tackle hunger.
Several of the competitors are widows, and as sole bread winners in the family women have to pass through many obstacles to succeed.
“When my husband died I didn’t know what to do.” said Beleyu Kassaye, a mother of eight. “He was the one who did everything and I never bothered to learn anything. It is not easy when you are all alone and have to feed eight children. I remember how hard it was – that is why I am very proud of what I accomplished.”
After the 12 finalists were nominated, they took part in a week’s training including marketing, farming, post harvest management, and leadership skills. The training was given by experts from Agri-Service Ethiopia, a non-governmental and non-profit organization which uses education to improve smallholder farmers’ social and economic prospects.
“For me the lesson on mixed agriculture was very useful,” said Serkalem. “It is not good to depend on only one thing. You always have to have an alternative.” Belayu on the other hand found the book keeping lesson very valuable: “You have to know your spending to save smartly and I plan to do that as soon as I get back. I never used to keep a record and now I will.”
At the final event, covered by Ethiopian national media, well-known actress Mulualem Tadesse announced the winners of the competition. First prize was awarded to Ababo Gefa Buta, a small-scale farmer who said as she received the award of 50,000 Ethiopian Birr (about $2,750):
“I worked like a man all my life and it is incredible to be recognized like this – it is difficult to express how happy I am. I plan to expand my farm and increase my productivity with the money I won. But I also want to start a hotel business.”
At the end of the evening Ababo presented a letter to H.E. Tefera Derebew, Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture and a guest of honour at the final, to pass on to the Ethiopian Prime Minister. The letter highlighted the current challenges that women food producers face, and requested the government’s continued support in overcoming them. The Minister congratulated the finalists and said he hoped they will continue to be role models for food production and share what they learnt from this experience with others.
The runner-up received 30,000 Birr, while the two joint third place winners received 17,500 birr each. The rest of the finalists were also rewarded 5000 birr each.