1 April 2013

Africa: Feed the Future Empowers Women in Agriculture


Washington — A grant from the U.S. African Development Foundation enabled the COOPAVI women's fishing cooperative in western Rwanda to receive training, buy motorboats and fishing supplies, and eventually increase its income 300 percent.

Congress established the USADF in 1980 to provide grants to community groups and enterprises in Africa for the benefit of people who have needs not addressed by other governments' programs, nonprofits or international donors.

"My husband believed that fishing wasn't for women, that it was a man's job," said a cooperative member. "Finally, he understood — when he found out how much money I would be earning."

The co-op, which fishes for profit in Lake Kivu, donates a portion of its catch and 10 percent of its profits to an orphanage and hospital benefiting hundreds of people in the community.

"People who think women cannot fish are lagging behind the times," the cooperative member said.

The USADF is one of 10 U.S. agencies that support smallholder farmers, particularly women, in 19 focus countries through Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food-security initiative launched in 2009. Led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Feed the Future helps the countries develop their agriculture sectors, spurring economic growth and better nutrition. The program is driven by country-led priorities and is rooted in partnerships with governments, donor organizations, the private sector and civil society.

At the end of March, Feed the Future chronicled some of its successes while marking the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index. The index is a composite measurement of women's control over their lives in the household, community and economy. It is a collaboration of USAID, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative in England.

Feed the Future noted one of its successes through the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation. MCC joined a group of women rice farmers in Ghana with trainers in business development and crop production. The farmers credit the training they received with helping them grow better rice, accurately track their profits and losses, and negotiate fair prices with suppliers and service providers.

The trainers followed up by connecting the rice growers with the U.N. World Food Programme. The WFP buys 100-kilogram bags of rice from the women at prices higher than that paid at local markets, enabling the producers to cover their children's school fees and household electricity bills.

Feed the Future also highlighted its support of training for women in agricultural research, like Tanzania's Frida Nyamete. The food-science student received funding through Feed the Future to study for a master's degree at Michigan State University. She recently completed research in agriculture at Tanzania's Sokoine University, where she worked to find new approaches to reduce harmful aflatoxin fungi in maize.

That brought her a step closer to becoming part of the next generation of agricultural scientists.

Nyamete plans to continue studying toward a doctoral degree, specializing in food safety and toxicology. "I want to be a part of the existing race to create a more scientifically advanced tomorrow in Tanzania," she said.

"African women scientists are confident and capable of making change in society," Nyamete added. "Empowering us can contribute more effectively and significantly to food security and poverty alleviation."

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