The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) cites gender equality as being the single most important determinant of food security. Across the developing world, women—who carry out the majority of unpaid work in the agricultural sector—require more say in decisions that impact farming in their local communities.
The harsh reality is that climate change, combined with strong-rooted traditions regarding gender roles, has resulted in life becoming much harder for rural women across western and central Africa, notably in Burkina Faso. According the World Bank, 40 percent of Burkinabe residents live below the poverty line and 80 percent of the nation’s employment is linked to subsistence farming. Burkinabe farmers, many of them women, battle with soil that; is low in nutrients, has a low water-holding capacity and is largely degraded. The country's difficult farming conditions, compounded with drought, means that women’s everyday life has become much tougher. In rural villages women must walk further to fetch water and work harder in the field for less yield
On May 23 2017, the ‘We are the solution! Celebrate African family farming’ movement held an interactive workshop for rural women in Burkina Faso, with the aim of educating and training these ladies about agro-ecological practices. Training women in such farming techniques would help improve the quality of soil, and educate farming women on how to adapt to a changing climate—yielding better result in the long-term.
According to Sibiri Dao, the movement’s coordinator, agro-ecology is more than just the simple fusion ecological methods with traditional farming practices—it represents the only liable option for the continuation of agriculture as a whole and the survival of humanity. What’s more, women are the key to the movement’s success.
‘We are the solution! Celebrate African family farming’ was first established as a campaign in 2006 in Burkina Faso, but it only really started on its current path in September 2011. This was when the movement formed connections with different organisations representing rural women across five countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Senegal.
Now, twelve different associations across these African nations have taken on the campaign and the FAO estimates that the movement has resulted in the training of more than 159,000 people. Sibiri Dao, who is coordinator of the movement and on the board of directors for the National Federation of Farming Organisations (FENOP), explained that despite having evolved slowly she and her team have set their standards high.
As well as educating and training on traditional agricultural methods, ‘We are the solution! Celebrate African family farming’ works in other domains; helping to set up local networks and empowering rural women to take key roles in promoting and changing the mentality towards natural products. In doing so, the movement promotes agro-ecological farming and women’s rights. Dao is convinced that if women step up the the plate, they could persuade and rally men into accepting agro-ecological practices, especially in farming families.
This regional or even national advocacy aims to provide women with the power to persuade authorities to acknowledging and accept the need for women in agro-ecology, which in turn could make food sovereignty a reality for farmers. The workshop’s organisers explain that the movement’s advisory committee meets every year to examine the three-year plans previously decided on.
One of the main aims of the workshop on May 23 2017 was to increase visibility. This included promoting the ‘We are the solution!’ campaign and the actions of rural women in Burkina Faso, engaging large-scale support for rural women, calling out public and political opinion on the prioritisation of food sovereignty in development policy, and sharing experiences of promoting agro-ecology. “At the end of the workshop, the participants have to clearly determine their grassroots prospects, and then we conduct an evaluation at the next meeting,” said Sibiri Dao.
Victorine Kam—a member of the Munyu Association of Banfora and an advocate for agro-ecological production methods—shared her experiences. Despite some difficulties encountered in agro-ecological production, she encouraged her colleagues to practice this style of agriculture, advocating for its natural advantages. “The vendors testify that chemically produced foods rot faster than agro-ecological produce. Consumers also remark that ecological products are softer than those that have been chemically treated,” said Kam. She also explained that to make organic manure, you only need to combine the stalks of rice plants, animal waste and ash. The material is then packed down and compressed for between 15 days and month, at which point it’s useable.
Movements such as ‘We are the solution! Celebrate African family farming’ highlight that with the access to educational opportunities and training programmes, women across Western and Central Africa have the ability to provide greater food security for future communities.