Women advancing the food agenda

March 8, 2018

By Anne Majani

The world is on March 8 celebrating women activists spread across different realms, the scholars, policy makers, scientists and artists, you name it. For instance Dr. Vandana Shiva, leading movements to change both practice and paradigms to reclaim seed sovereignty and food security and Ms. Hilal Elver Special Rapporteur on Right to Food whose top agenda comprises of women’s rights. Closer home, Professor Ruth Oniang’o,   an activist and winner of the prestigious African Food Prize 2017, former Nominated Senator Beatrice Elachi who sponsored the Food security bill, Nation TV reporter Zeynab Wandati at the helm of the renowned Food Friday Television feature won the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) A.H Boerma award and artists like Wambui Collymore, the founder of Artspace, who through her installation dubbed “Mashakura” (popular stereo-type term in the Kikuyu language referring to a mixture of various foods)  brings one closer to the intricacies of food issues and the possibilities of innovation in food. The list is endless!

This women’s day we celebrate the woman who braves the morning chill to offer her services to the local food processing company. The Mama mboga (popular term for food vendors in Kiswahili)  who provides you with fresh vegetables, the mother, wife, or daughter who in a smoky kitchen transforms farm produce to a finger licking nutritious meal.

Progress in food Systems

We gather again this year to reflect on the progress that has been made and build momentum for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals four and five on ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. The Global Gender Gap report 2017 brings good tidings highlighting that many countries have reduced their gaps in Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment dimensions. However, based on the trends in the Global Gender Gap report it will take us another 100 years to close the gap! As much as Kenya was listed among the countries that have reduced its gender gap and improved its index, its global ranking declined from 63 in 2016 to 76 in 2017.

There is need to better understand and promote women’s roles in development and food systems. Women play major roles in the food systems and their participation in production, processing, distribution and food consumption are significant.  Women make up 70 per cent of farmers in Africa. Women are seed custodians and tapping into seed networks to increase their ability to provide diverse and nutritious food for the families in a changing climate. However, women represent less than 15 per cent of agricultural land holders which is largely because access to land and other important resources is constrained by patriarchy. Mama Mboga, the greengrocer present in the most estates, contributes largely to distribution systems for the urban population. Taking a closer look at the Kibanda (popular term for informal food vendors’ structures), food vendors are women. Many will relate with the ladies in the main market, as well as those who in the evenings will sell their supplies in the city business district (and are frequently engaged in running battles with the City Council Municipality Officers). The rising of supermarket chains retailing fresh and local produce provide great market opportunities to supply the rising middle class, however their restrictive procurement policies and the quality and quantity required limit the involvement of the small scale female farmer.  

What will we be advancing for the women after this year’s celebrations?

It is important to take up policies and actions that will help to transform women at all levels. Investing in innovations in the design of solutions, equal access to resources and greater access to business training, financial and advisory services is a start. Opening up opportunities for doing business, access to education, participating and influencing decision contribute positively to women’s role in the food systems and provision of decent and fulfilling work and spaces for their business is paramount.