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Africa's Future is Female

27 September 2010, One International


Women make up the majority of farmers in Africa, producing an estimated 80% of the continent’s food.[1] With nearly 75% of the continent’s population living and working in rural areas, poverty reduction is closely related to food security and farm productivity.[2]

Although it is women who are preparing the fields, weeding, harvesting the crops and selling them in local markets, in many families and communities men own the land, receive the training and have better access to tools, seeds, fertiliser and credit. As a result, women cannot access profits, cannot reinvest them or access capital to expand their investments and, as a result, cannot work their way out of poverty, despite their efforts.

Reaching women with equal access to these assets is proven to boost production and yields, by up to 22% according to some studies.[3] Empowering women with control over their land also helps to ensure that their families will reap the benefits. Studies show that when women own land and manage their earnings, their agricultural productivity also increases and their children eat more healthily.[4]

Harvesting a brighter future in Tanzania

Maria Mchele Mwasonge used to sleep on a rag on the floor with her five children.

But then she met Mwanaidi Rhamadani, a trained female farmer in her home of Mwasonge, Tanzania. Mwanaidi told her about a new kind of crop that was bred just for their region - the orange sweet potato, rich in vitamins and nutrients - and Maria jumped at the chance to learn more. She discovered the best seeds to grow on her small patch of land, the smartest ways to use water and how to split one vine into two. She even learned how to get the best price for her potatoes at market.

Today, thanks to this training, funded by USAID, Maria sells a lot more than just potatoes. -Now, I sell seeds, chips, biscuits, doughnuts, flour, even pancakes, all made from sweet potatoes.- In fact, programmes like this have helped farmers like Maria increase their income by up to 400% - and she’s using this new income to send her children to school and build a new, sturdy home. Maria and her children won’t have to sleep on a rag on the floor any more.

"I work happily knowing that I will be getting out of poverty by doing what I’m doing. And when I sleep, all I think about is the potatoes," she says.

Maria's now teaching other farmers exactly what she's learned. And she's even helping her community to get healthy. The town's health centre has said that, because kids are eating more nutritious food, there’s much less malnutrition amongst Mwasonge’s children under five.
Maria’s helping to feed her family, her community and her entire nation for the long term.

- Story adapted from the Living Proof Project and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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