The incredible women farmers of Ethiopia

Agriculture, Food & livelihoods, Food security, Gender

In Ethiopia, the Female Food Heroes initiative is giving women smallholder farmers a platform to showcase their successes. Here, Seble Teweldebirhan, media and digital campaigner at Oxfam America, describes how the initiative is supporting women in agriculture and helping them to inspire their communities.     

The Female Food Heroes (FFH) initiative started in Ethiopia in 2013 with the aim of encouraging and awarding women smallholder farmers for their immense contribution to food security. Compared to men, women farmers are marginalized from benefiting from the sector. The FFH initiative is working to change the terms of the argument by using different outlets, including mainstream and social media, and by highlighting the success stories of women smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. From nomination to the final award, we showcase women’s stories, their
successes and challenges on local, regional and national levels. Each region in Ethiopia collects nominations, and selects and announces regional winners, who are then invited to Addis Ababa for an award ceremony and training opportunities.

On 22 November, 2014, eight regional winners of the Female Food Heroes competition came to Addis Ababa. Their stories demonstrate that encouraging women smallholder farmers and supporting their efforts are crucial to achieve food security.

Women in Ethiopia face many challenges, including gender inequality, violence, stereotypes and harmful traditional practices. Despite this, rural women are the main workforce of the agricultural sector, and roughly 23% of households are headed by women. The winners of the Female Food Heroes competition, from all regions of Ethiopia, show the potential for success in ensuring food security with a little support and inspiration. Women in Ethiopia face many challenges including gender inequality, violence,
stereotypes and harmful traditional practices.

Inspiring by example

Dangashe, who is a Female Food Hero from B/Gumuz region, is the first wife. She lives in a community where bigamy is common practice. She raises her five children almost by herself, since her husband prefers to spend most of his time with his new brides. However, what makes Dangashe different from most women in her village is her conviction towards pursuing a better economic situation. For that, unlike the women in her village, she works closely with the agricultural extension workers, listens to their advice, and is open to learning new ways of farming. This
has transformed her life for good, and made her an example for all the women in her village.

Supporting women in agriculture, and helping them to create a business from it, transforms their lives and those of their families. Tekay, from Tigray region, and Sofu, from Harari region, are examples of this. They are both hardworking women, who raised their children and created jobs for them. With the dream of creating a modern family farm, these women have worked their entire lives using irrigation and producing fruits and vegetables. Now that their children have grown up and are helping them, they both agree that agriculture is the best means of income

Supporting women in agriculture, and helping them to create a business from it, transforms their lives and those of their families.The Female Food Heroes initiative also works closely with women farmers who show commitment to environmental protection and climate change adaptation. Ajulu, an outspoken woman from the Gambella region, uses every opportunity to highlight the importance of environmental protection in her village. When she was invited to speak at a climate hearing organized by the Climate Change Forum in Gambella
city, she wowed the audience with her confidence and articulation. Ajulu understood the threat of climate change. She insisted that more trees should be planted and that electricity should reach her village.

Sharing learning and best practice

The award ceremony is an opportunity for these women to share their experiences and, through the training, to see new opportunities and make use of new resources. Sofu, a mother of eight from Harari, said that the training changed how she viewed money and business. “I am glad I came here because in one of the training sessions they taught us about saving our money in the bank. I [put my entire savings] in my house and I lost 80,000 birr from my home recently. Now the first thing I would do when I go back is open a saving account,” she says.

All of their stories were covered by national and regional media. The award ceremony was also transmitted live by the national television station, Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency (EBC). Regional radio stations and newspapers, as well as social media activists and bloggers, also picked up the stories. With all the efforts by the government and development partners to support women farmers to use their incredible potential to ensure food security, the inspiration the Female Food Heroes award created is still felt, long after the award ceremony. This is
exactly what Oxfam in Ethiopia is trying to achieve. Oxfam is committed to sustainable livelihoods, agriculture and supporting women. The Female Food Heroes initiative is an opportunity to lead by example and make the main stakeholders, women, play the leading role by sharing good practice and inspiring communities.

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Photo: The 2014 winners of Female Food Heroes Ethiopia with the renowned Ethiopian singer and Good Will Ambassador of the Female Food Heroes Hamelmal Abate. Credit: Amensisa Ifa.

Author: Seble Teweldebirhan
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.