Celina Cossa

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1998 Africa Prize Laureate

Celina Cossa is the founder and leader of the General Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, an organization of 10,000 peasants, 95 percent of whom are women. The 200 cooperatives produce food for members and their families, and are generating a surplus that enables them to supply the markets in Maputo, the Mozambican capital.

Years of devastating war destroyed the livelihoods and productive capacity of the people of Mozambique. Villages were destroyed, farmlands planted with mines, towns battered. The remaining cities became crowded with refugees as families fled their homes, displaced and helpless. When the war finally ended in 1992, little was left of the old economy, the old Mozambique. Today, in Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo, much has changed.

In 1980, this former primary school teacher had a vision, and she began to make it a reality. A twofold vision: building a sustainable food supply for her war-ravaged country, AND, empowering the poorest Mozambican peasants. A way of turning the weakest parts of society into its backbone.

Like many revolutions, this one started small – with a few cooperative groups of women raising patches of vegetables and selling them in Maputo for extra income for the family. Few people took it seriously; few even counted its economic value.

While most development planners focused on men, Celina Cossa organized and unleashed the power of women, building the network from six cooperatives around Maputo to more than 224 spread over a wide area. Beginning with vegetable farming and expanding into a wide range of productive enterprises, such as poultry production and marketing, credit, insurance, industry, and construction, the women peasants of Mozambique have become an economic powerhouse.

And the changes go far beyond food self-sufficiency, even beyond economics, as training programs and the success of their ventures teach women what they are truly capable of. Not simply peasants, they are now accountants, bankers, teachers, politicians – they are leaders on the national stage.

Read the acceptance address: Remarks By Mrs. Celina Cossa