The African Union (AU) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but instead of looking back, the current chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, seems intent on casting her vision ahead to an Africa 50 years from now. Her hope is that it will be "a prosperous Africa at peace with itself".
Dlamini-Zuma admits that this will not be easy, and she sees human and agricultural development as critical to the realisation of the Africa she envisions. "Agriculture is very central not only in providing nutrition, food and food security but also in stimulating industrialisation," said Dlamini-Zuma, speaking last week at the bi-annual Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) meeting.
Calling on the support of the 55 civil society organisations that make up the GIMAC network, she said, "The AU can only coordinate, facilitate and advocate but the actual work, in the end, has to be done at the national level by yourselves."
The unique and powerful role GIMAC can play was echoed by Frannie Léautier, the executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). Léautier said GIMAC's connections at the grassroots level and its ability to "break doors in the halls of power whether it is at the pan-African, country, chamber of commerce or ministry level" allows for "holistic vertical and horizontal change".
In Africa, women play a vital role in agriculture and nutrition, but they face significant challenges. Léautier believes there are three key rights the GIMAC network needs to address if it aims to transform the role women play in agriculture: land rights; the right to conduct cross-border trade without harassment; and the right to own businesses and conduct business across borders.
Another challenge that African women face in the agriculture sector is climate change. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland who leads the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice has brought to GIMAC her passion to raise awareness about what she says is the injustice of how climate change is undermining livelihoods, particularly in developing countries. Bineta Diop, the founder of GIMAC, affectionately refers to Robinson as her "African sister".
Speaking to reporters after the GIMAC meeting, Robinson said she was impressed by how the women of GIMAC had adopted climate justice as part of their core agenda, and she applauded their focus on the role of women in agriculture because, she said, "food and nutrition is at the heart of development."
Last July GIMAC, in partnership with ACBF and under the patronage of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, launched an initiative to empower women in agriculture. In its first phase, the initiative is carrying out a baseline study to determine what work is being done regarding women and agriculture. This will then determine what key areas the initiative will focus on.