Women farmers toil to expand Africa's food supply
By Megan Rowling
LONDON (Reuters) - Like many African women, Mazoe Gondwe is her family's main food provider. Lately, she has struggled to farm her plot in Malawi due to unpredictable rains that are making her hard life even tougher.
"Now we can't just depend on rain-fed agriculture, so we plant two crops - one watered with rain and one that needs irrigating," she explained. "But irrigation is back-breaking and can take four hours a day."
Gondwe, flown by development agency ActionAid to U.N. climate change talks in Poland this month, said she wanted access to technology that would cut the time it takes to water her crops and till her farm garden. She would also be glad of help to improve storage facilities and seed varieties.
"As a local farmer, I know what I need and I know what works. I grew up in the area and I know how the system is changing," Gondwe said.
This year, agricultural experts have renewed calls for policy makers to pay more attention to small-scale women farmers such as Gondwe, who grow up to 80 percent of crops for food consumption in Africa.
After decades in the political wilderness, farming became a hot topic this year when international food prices hit record highs in June, sharply boosting hunger around the world. The proportion of development aid spent on agriculture has dropped to just 4 percent from a peak of 17 percent in 1982.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for women to be at the heart of a "policy revolution" to boost small-scale farming in Africa.
Women have traditionally shouldered the burden of household food production both there and in Asia, while men tend to focus on growing cash crops or migrate to cities to find paid work. Continued...