Speaking as Chairperson of the Prize Committee at the 7th African Green Revolution Forum in Abidjan which saw the 2017’s premier African Food Prize taken by two women from among a total of 643 candidates, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said “this is a clear demonstration that women in Africa are at the forefront in terms of connecting the rising food needs and the continent’s vision for prosperity that is driven by agriculture and agri-business.”
The African woman’s general role in changing the course of his history and the human condition has long been underscored. From the many whose efforts never get covered in the media to the few whose activities have been acknowledged publicly, agriculture is undoubtedly one area in which their contribution cannot be quantified.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of agricultural production is by smallholder farmers. And the female share of the agricultural labor force is the highest in the world, according to www.farmafrica.org.
African women’s achievements in agriculture and agri-business come in various ways and at different levels. The following three women farmers are among many others who have made an impact in agriculture at different levels.
Maïmouna Sidibe Coulibaly is an agro industrialist from Mali and one of the two winners of the 2017 premier African Food Prize, the most prestigious prize for African agricultural development.
Maïmouna’s husband Ntji described her as “…the pillar of our family, the pillar of our motherland”. She watched her mother, as a little girl, tilling the fields, growing just a little bit of millet, sorghum, maize, rice, and peanut— to support and nourish the family. And as the years went by, her desire to do something bigger and better—to stem the tide, grew stronger. With every opportunity, she acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to venture into modern farming.
She opened a seed company, ‘Faso Kaba’, and started selling improved maize to farmers in 2003. Along the way she got some support from Alliance and USAID and went on to establish capacity training programs for Faso Kaba staff, which helped improve its seed processing quality, output and efficiency. Her company’s improved seeds can improve agricultural yields by up to 40 percent.
Working with over 30 staff (made up of both men and women), some 80 field laborers, and 150 seed distributors, Maïmouna has also set up a modern office, a processing plant, and has demonstration plots where scientists and farmers meet to work to improve seed quality. Over 1 million tons of various hybrids and varieties have been so far sold from her farms.
Her company is the largest seed provider in Mali, with impact beyond the country’s domestic market. During the Ebola crisis, Faso Kaba transported grains to Syria, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and other neighboring countries.
Maïmouna together with Ruth Oniang’o of Kenya, an advocate of nutrition, won the 2017’s premier African Food Prize with a $100,000 prize amount.
Patricia Boadi, a Ghanaian farmer, emerged the best district farmer in her district at the country’s 2016 annual National Farmers Day Celebration.
The 40-year-old wife and mother of seven, won the prize for adopting good farming practices, increasing her level of production in that year, and contributing to her local community. She planted altogether 7.2 hectares of ginger, garden eggs, pepper, okra, and cassava. In addition, she had altogether 120 sheep, goats, and local birds.
Thato Moagi is a 26-year-old farmer from the Limpopo province in South Africa. She manages her family’s farm, Legae La Banareng Farms, from which she produces grains, including yellow and white maize and vegetables. Her farm supplies grains to various local markets.
The 50-hectare Legae La Banareng farm has become a model of successful mixed farming, as they also keep bees, raise livestock – cattle, goats and sheep, as well as grow crops, such as potatoes, green beans, and onions.
The Nuffield Scholar’s hard work and achievements in agriculture has earned her many awards, including the Limpopo province’s Female Farmer of the Year and Female Entrepreneur of the Year, from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. She became the first South African to receive the prestigious Nuffield Agriculture Scholarship. Her chosen topic for the scholarship is “Exploring Integrated Beef Production Models.”
She is the secretary of Waterberg Women Farmers Association, and a member of the African Farmers Association of South Africa, and Bosveld Dorper Club.
Besides the achievements of individual women in farming across the continent, African women have made a great impact in agriculture through their work at the institutional and related leadership levels, including engaging in advocacy and taking initiatives aimed at boosting agriculture and food production.
They could do far more, given the needed resources and enabling environment. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization intimated that “if women were given the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase the yields on their farms by 20- 30%”.