The Africa Prize Celebrates the African Woman Food Farmer

Holding the Africa Prize sculpture are Fadiop Guèye Sall, Hunger Project Council member, Senegal; Chief Bisi Ogunleye; Nagbila A

Holding the Africa Prize sculpture are Fadiop Guèye Sall, Hunger Project Council member, Senegal; Chief Bisi Ogunleye; Nagbila Aisseta; and Dr. Speciosa Kazibwe.

On the evening of 9 October, 1,500 Hunger Project investors and activists joined together in solidarity with the women farmers of Africa, whose economic empowerment is the key to ending hunger in Africa. The 13th annual Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger was awarded to the women farmers of Africa, who produce 80 percent of Africa’s food, but who lack access to the resources they need to perform this incredible task. Nagbila Aisseta, a food farmer from Burkina Faso, accepted the Africa Prize from Jury Chair Javier Pérez de Cuéllar on behalf of her sisters across the African continent.

The Africa Prize award ceremony marked the official launch of The Hunger Project’s African Woman Food Farmer Initiative, designed to make the African woman an economic player, a decision-maker, a planner, an entrepreneur, and a power in her own life and in the life of Africa. The initiative has been designed by African women activists, and is being funded by an initial US$1 million from The Hunger Project. This strategic initiative will provide the opportunity to create lasting change in the social status and well-being of Africa’s 100 million rural women and their families.

Her Future Is Africa’s Future
Excerpts from the address by Joan Holmes

"For virtually every nation in the world, the development of both viable agriculture and basic food security provide the foundation for social and economic prosperity. This has been the story in Europe, North America, Latin America, Korea, Japan and China. Africa will be no exception. If Africa is to end hunger, if Africa is to provide food security for its people, if Africa is to build robust and growing economies and take its proper place in the emerging global economy, Africa must have a productive food and agriculture sector. This means investing in farmers – which in Africa means investing in rural women.

"The African woman food farmer is the key to greater agricultural production. She is the key to the end of hunger in Africa. She is the key to a new future for Africa. It is no exaggeration to say – her future is Africa’s future.

"The truth is that Africa has great untapped agricultural potential. If developed appropriately, Africa could feed its people, be a net exporter of food, and begin a movement toward real prosperity. We in The Hunger Project are betting on the people of Africa to meet this challenge. We’re confident that this breakdown can be transformed into a breakthrough. We’re committed to investing our human and financial resources to be a part of this transformation. We know this will not happen overnight. We in The Hunger Project are committed for the long haul. We’ll stay in it as long as it takes."

Africa’s Women Activists in the Spotlight

Joan HolmesJoan Holmes

At the program’s onset, Chief Bisi Ogunleye, 1996 Africa Prize laureate, addressed the audience: "The ball is in our court. Joan, when you brought us together in Ghana in June, to work out our own strategy for this initiative, our response was unanimous – thank God somebody has been listening. Now, with The Hunger Project, we are making this issue visible. We are making it urgent. We have created our vision. We have identified the leadership. We have formulated our action plans and our budgets – and as we meet here tonight, our actions in Africa are under way."

Dr. Speciosa Kazibwe, vice president of Uganda, endorsed the initiative as key to a new future for Africa. "The highest priority for Africa must be the economic empowerment of our women food farmers. African governments must make this the top priority. The international community must join us in this priority. And we, as committed human beings, must make this our priority."

Perhaps the most moving moment came when Nagbila Aisseta spoke, as recipient of the Africa Prize on behalf of Africa’s women food farmers: "Since the establishment of The Hunger Project in my village, two years ago, many things have changed for us women. The Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops taught us how to analyze and solve our problems with dignity and self-reliance. The consequence of our regained dignity is that today more young girls are sent to school."

Joyce Banda concluded the evening with words of appreciation for the investors whose financial support is making the initiative a reality. "On behalf of all the women of Africa, I want to thank you. Thank you for your love, your support, and your inspiring financial investment. . . . If I may be so bold as to speak for all African women, I say that we accept this challenge. You can count on us."

The Strategy

African women leaders Joyce Banda, Lorraine Osei-Mensah, Esther Ocloo, Jeanne Uwineza, Bernadette Ouattara, Rafiatou Karim, Fadiop Guèye Sall, Chief Bisi Ogunleye. The actions that must be taken to empower Africa’s women food farmers are enormous – yet they are well within the capabilities of the people of Africa and their partners around the world. In order to play a high-leverage role in catalyzing what must be done, The Hunger Project’s African Woman Food Farmer Initiative will intervene on three crucial levels.

The three-pronged strategy includes:

  • A communication campaign of public events and strategic communications designed to awaken Africa and the international community to the extraordinary contributions of the African woman food farmer. This campaign began with the October 1999 Africa Prize for Leadership, and will continue through a series of public events in Africa, as the Africa Prize moves from country to country, village to village, during the year 2000, like an Olympic torch.
  • Action on the ground that pioneers a new methodology for the economic empowerment of the African woman food farmer, through credit, savings and investment. Beginning in five countries of West Africa, The Hunger Project will invest an initial US$1 million in an initiative that not only produces results in women’s lives, but also demonstrates the management capacity for large-scale activity, the high standards of integrity and transparency in accounting, and the high quality of documentation required by larger-scale funding agencies.
  • Advocacy.As the results of this initiative take hold, we will build alliances with like-minded organizations both inside and outside Africa, to advocate for the policy changes and budget reallocations necessary to ensure that all African women food farmers gain the economic opportunity they need and deserve.
    1. Agriculture budgets must increase. Aid agencies and governments must increase spending on agriculture from current levels averaging 6.5 percent to 30 percent.
    2. Women must be organized.Women’s traditional strengths must be expanded through strong women’s self-help groups.
    3. Rural banking must be transformed.Banks must be equipped to process microcredits to women farmers.
    4. Training and extension must reach women. Extension services must provide women with the information and skills to diversify crops and increase incomes.
    5. Appropriate technology must be promoted. Improved simple technologies must be made available and their use promoted.
    6. Women’s health and education must be ensured. Villages must be empowered to ensure basic education and health care, and safe drinking water.
    7. Land rights must be secure. Women must have enforceable title to land they farm.
    8. Research must be reoriented. Agricultural research projects must work in partnership with African women food farmers.
    9. Women must gain voice in decision-making. Women must have representation at every level of government.
    10. Attitudes must change. Men and women must be educated in ways that remove taboos, alter attitudes and foster authentic partnership.

 A Day in Her Life."

Jane Shaw at the exhibit, "The African Woman Food Farmer: A Day in Her Life."

A Call to Action

If Africa is to have a viable future, African women food farmers must be economically empowered. Half measures, incremental change and gestures will not do. The economic empowerment of 100 million African women food farmers must be the centerpiece of all development policies and programs.

Ten critical actions must be taken by NGOs, bilateral aid organizations, the World Bank and UN agencies.

Breakthrough in GIG Activism

The launching of a global activist campaign has led to the unprecedented expansion of the Global Investment Group (GIG). Hunger Project activists around the world have created a new way of working in partnership to pierce the veil of unconsciousness surrounding the African woman food farmer. As a result of their efforts, a record-setting 1,500 committed, strategic people were present at the 1999 Africa Prize award ceremony.

The activist campaign was based on the realization that people living in affluent countries can perform the work of ending hunger through their financial investment. In the past 12 months, the GIG, composed of individuals who invest US$5,000 or more per year, has more than doubledin number, from 437 to over 900, representing the expanding body of people who are expressing their love and commitment to the work of ending hunger through their money.

On the weekend of the Africa Prize, this activist body met in New York to chart plans for the future. Peg Thatcher, director of global funding, spoke of the work: "There has been a breakthrough in the work of the activists, whose self-reliant leadership is opening up a whole new future for The Hunger Project. As an international body of accountable leadership, we are looking into the needs of the new millennium." On 11 October, Hunger Project investors and staff departed on the first-ever activist-led trip to Burkina Faso, to act as advocates for the African Woman Food Farmer Initiative there.