United Nations

Grow food locally, support women farmers, says NGO coalition

UNITED NATIONS - Governments and international agencies concerned with improving food security in Africa should support women farmers and boost efforts to grow and process food locally, according to the Advocates for African Food Security.

An umbrella group composed of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives of UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations, the Advocates organized a panel discussion and presented a statement on food security here in New York on 17 September in connection with the UN's Mid-Term Review of the UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s. The Bahá'í International Community is the convenor of the Advocates.

The panel discussion and statement offered a preview of what some grassroots-oriented NGOs will be saying at the upcoming World Food Summit, scheduled to be held in Rome from 13-17 November .

The six panelists, who represented a range of local and regional organizations, expressed a general concern - which was also reflected in the Advocates' statement - that international agencies are not doing enough to support food self-sufficiency in Africa. More specifically, they said, international aid too often supports the importation of foreign foods rather than assisting in the development of better methods for growing, preserving, storing and distributing locally grown food.

"It is said that trade is indispensible to food security. But developing an economy's ability to produce food is also beneficial to the market."

--Linda Elswick, World Sustainable Agriculture Association

"It is said that trade is indispensable to food security," said Linda Elswick of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association (WSAA). "But developing an economy's ability to produce food is also beneficial to the market." Ms. Elswick said that despite arguments to the contrary, small-scale producers are capable of environmentally safe and sustainable food production.

Also addressed was the tendency of governments and agencies to focus on men farmers, even though women produce up to 80 percent of the food in Africa.

Teclaire Ntomb of Groupe d'Initiative Commune des Paysannes de Bogso spoke about a small women's project in Cameroon. Involving just 50 women in one village, it has been able to farm 20,000 hectares of cassava - without the use of modern agricultural practices - and in the process create a canteen so that children can have a balanced meal at school.

"We use archaic methods of farming, but we work as a group and this is where our strength comes from," said Ms. Ntomb.

Tiati à Zock, a community development facilitator with the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development in Cameroon, spoke about a project to heighten men's awareness of the heavy work load of African women and how women's advancement benefits all.

Through song, dance, theater, and music presented in an entertaining and non-threatening way, the Traditional Media As Change Agent Project in Cameroon generated in men a greater consciousness of the burden carried by women.

"Many of the men did not realize that their wives were doing most of the daily work, and were embarrassed to find it out," Mr. à Zock said. "But when they did, they wanted to know how they could help." By creating a new awareness of the situation, men began to shoulder some of the work that women had been doing, he said, causing food production to increase.

-- Reported by Veronica Shoffstall