‘Female food heroes’: heroines of our time

Roxanna Deleersnyder
03 January 2018
Since the role of women is all too often underestimated in Africa, Oxfam decided to put female farmers in the spotlight with its popular TV programme 'Oxfam's Female Food Heroes'.

In many African countries, women are not allowed to buy or own land. Only their husbands are allowed to do so, even though women are mostly the ones taking care of their families and relatives. Oxfam supports women who do no longer accept this injustice. The NGO has been active in Tanzania since 1960, where it is committed to more transparent policies, economic support for women, innovative development for young people and the fight against rural poverty.

Oxfam’s Female Food Heroes

Instead of only focusing on the government, Oxfam decided to directly address the general public in 2011. And what channel is better suited to do so than television? That is why Oxfam launched the TV programme 'Oxfam's Female Food Heroes' in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria. In this programme, different women active in agriculture compete against each other and try to successfully pass several tests. Every week, one participant is eliminated, until one is left and declared winner.

The aim is to put female food producers in the spotlight, in order to emphasize the importance of their role and encourage other women to do exactly the same. The programme offers them a voice and an opportunity to share their expertise and create awareness, which seems to be going pretty well, especially when you consider that it has attracted more than 10 million viewers. This bottom-up initiative may prove more effective for the NGO than the often slow top-down processes. 

Oxfam believes that women are the key to poverty reduction, but pity enough they remain underestimated. Correcting the gender balance would reduce global food shortage by 17 percent. However, a number of barriers remain to be overcome, such as women's lack of voice, poor or no access to land and water, financial and agricultural resources, weak infrastructure and the ever-growing impact of climate change.

The programme offers female food producers a voice and an opportunity to share their expertise and create awareness, which seems to be going pretty well, especially when you consider that it has attracted more than 10 million viewers

Popular

The program is very popular with the general public and is already in its seventh season. According to Oxfam, the popular TV show has produced several positive effects, such as the growing importance of female farmers and food producers, an improved relationship between regional and national governments and the dissemination of the message to other women. The ever stronger voice of the women in 'Oxfam's Female Food Heroes' encourages women in similar situations to take control of their lives and to commit to their own small agricultural initiative.

And when the curtain falls?

During the TV show, the participants live together in a village. Although they compete against each other in the various rounds, the women are also encouraged to share their knowledge and skills. In order to continue these exchanges after the end of a season, Oxfam regularly organises meetings for former participants where topics such as access to water, adaptations to climate change and sales techniques to strengthen their position towards middlemen are discussed. Women who are unable to attend the meetings can stay in contact with each other through a joint WhatsApp group. Oxfam provides the necessary smartphones to keep everyone involved.

According to Oxfam, the popular TV show has produced several positive effects, such as the growing importance of female farmers and food producers, an improved relationship between regional and national governments and the dissemination of the message to other women.

Camera take a picture of a group of women
© Oxfam

The EU and local regimes

The European Union supports sustainable agriculture and pursues gender balance through various projects. However, a study in which Oxfam evaluated 25 projects funded by the EU has shown that these two objectives are rarely combined. Only one project set gender balance as its main goal. In 19 projects, gender balance was of secondary importance and in 5 other projects, it received no specific attention.

Local regimes can also make an extra effort, according to Oxfam. The NGO points out that in Nigeria, for example, only 1.9 percent of the annual national budget was earmarked for agriculture (in 2010-2015), while the majority of the population lives on agriculture. Tanzania does not do much better, with 2.2 percent of the annual budget devoted to agriculture. Moreover, a survey conducted by Oxfam showed that only 20 percent of the 3000 Tanzanian farmers questioned had actually been instructed by extension services from their government. Governments give priority to other sectors, such as infrastructure, research institutes, prosperous geographical regions and the private sector. That is why Oxfam encourages the EU and other stakeholders to pay much more attention to female farmers.

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About the same theme - Article 11 /10 It’s never too early for gender equality