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Celebrating women making food systems more sustainable

Photo: Deepak kumar on Unsplash

In view of the upcoming international women’s day, SIANI wants to give women a voice who are somehow involved in food systems in many roles.

Women are active participants in food systems. They are farmers, producers, workers, processors, distributors, researchers, vendors, cookers, and consumers. Still, their contributions are often not consistently recognised. For example, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture, women make up at least 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries – rising to 70 percent in some countries, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture. Moreover, in rural areas, women are instrumental in the fight against hunger and malnutrition and in making food systems more productive and sustainable.

As Gilbert F. Houngbo, IFAD President, said “Each year, International Women’s Day is both a cause for celebration and a call for action,” SIANI wants to recognise the enormous contribution to food systems and make their voice heard. A group of women has shared their role in achieving sustainable food systems.

What is your name, what organisation do you represent?

– My name is Eden Leka Lencha, and I am a lecturer, researcher, and Ph.D. student at Hawassa University’s School of Nutrition, Food Science, and Technology.

– My name is Jeanne d’Arc Chinama Rusizana. I am a scientist woman and teaching staff at the University of Rwanda, and currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Plant Biotechnology at Egerton University-Kenya.

– My name is Marthe Niyibigira from Rwanda, soon completing a Master’s degree in Food Science and Technology from Makerere University.

– My name is Rosinha Sihlangu Zozi, I am a crop farmer and reside in Walkerville, Johannesburg, South Africa.

– My name is Laura Lozada and I represent Pacifilia. Through environmental education, agriculture, art, life experiences, and sustainable tourism, Pacifilia promotes the territories’ social, economic, and environment. Currently, we have activities in the municipality of Nuqu and Bahia Solano Choc/Colombia.

What role do you play in agriculture and in food systems? How do you contribute to a sustainable food system?

Eden Leka Lencha : One of my responsibilities at Hawassa University is to do research in agricultural and food systems using a multidisciplinary approach. I participated in various food science research projects that directly or indirectly benefit the food system or agriculture. One of my research focuses was reducing post-harvest loss of crops (highland fruits) by experimenting with different harvesting, handling, and packaging procedures. Minimising crop loss after harvest has a significant impact on the food security system. My current Ph.D. dissertation study focuses on the characterisation of diverse cassava varieties and the potential of these crops in end-use applications.

Characterisation may aid in identifying cost-effective and nutrient-dense crop types, allowing farmers to choose the best crop varieties, hence a significant impact on the food system.

Jeanne d’Arc Chinama Rusizana: My research focuses on screening and cleaning plant viruses through thermotherapy and meristem culture. Plant pathogens reduce overall crop yield by 30–40 percent, thus threatening food security. My focus plant is tamarillo which contributes to income generation in Rwanda by rural farmers, especially women, as 70% of Rwandan women are engaged in agriculture. Therefore,

I am working on making farming profitable in promoting Rwandan women’s livelihood.

The use of clean seeds is a foundation of the food system on which other components rely. It contributes to improved yield, minimises pesticide use, and reduces food waste. Upon completing my research, this technology will be extended to other important crops.

Marthe Niyibigira: As a Food Science and Technology student, I work in a multidisciplinary research team that generates valuable information for agriculture sector stakeholders. In this regard, I help farmers obtain and understand updated information, thus enabling them to make better use of available data and evidence-based decisions related to production, market, and financing challenges.

In food systems, I am involved in many different activities of adding value to various food products like increasing the nutritional content and the economic value of food products as well as encouraging and sensitising people to consume new, innovative, and improved food products, including insect-based food.

I have contributed to a sustainable food system for the last three years by developing and producing a healthier and more natural preservative called chitosan extracted from edible insects. This preservative helps reduce the use of chemical preservatives in food and their adverse effects on human health. It also increases the nutritional value of food in terms of dietary fibre and proteins, which enables all people to be well-nourished and healthy.

Rosinha Sihlangu Zozi: I am a crop farmer farming beans. I specialise in beans, black beans, sugar beans, yellow beans, and jugo beans, among others. I also plant seasonal vegetables and recently started livestock farming with rabbits, which I’m very excited about given rabbits vs. chickens’ protein potential. My customers are street vendors in the surrounding townships, mainly women from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds. These women work so hard to make sure that their families are fed.

Picture of Rosinha Sihlangu Zozi 

I’m also a product of this situation: being raised by a very hardworking woman who sold her produce on the road to fulfil the needs of her children and prepare us to be better women and help the next generations as we go along. Therefore, I sell my beans to these women at a very reasonable price, cutting off the middle man and making sure that they have a significant profit to fulfil their household needs. My clients then sell the produce to the local community in the townships, who mainly struggle to obtain a nutritional meal. So, me

selling my products at a lower but reasonable price helps feed the community who can’t afford to feed their families on a day-to-day basis.

I find encouraging the feedback I have received that most of those families are on chronic HIV and Diabetes medication. My organic food makes a noticeable difference in their diet.

Laura Lozada: At Pacifilia, solidarity, empathy, and inclusion are the pillars that consolidate these spaces as scenarios for respect for life and exalt biological and cultural diversity.

Our activities are carried out with people who inhabit the territory and know their needs and challenges, mainly women.

What are you doing to support women in food systems? Where are the biggest needs? 

Eden Leka Lencha: Hawassa University assists women in the food system, particularly farmers, by distributing new varieties of crops (with high yields) and providing community service training for women in various aspects of the food system, such as complimentary food preparation, food handling, and hygiene. In general, I have worked on multiple research projects and community service activities that promote a sustainable food system.

Marthe Niyibigira: The most significant potential to support women in food systems is in gender equality as women play important roles in the production, processing, and commercialisation of food and making decisions about the consumption and purchase of food.

The biggest need to support women in food systems is to encourage them in school to study agriculture and food-related courses and train them, especially those in the village.

Rosinha Sihlangu Zozi: I farm on 2.5 hectares, so I hire a very costly tractor to work the soil then do the planting manually. For this, I seasonally employ mainly women. Last year, for example, I hired eight women that helped me plant, weed removal, and harvest.

The most significant challenge is the lack of farming equipment. For instance, I could miss the planting season because in Midvaa (Local Municipality situated in the Southern region of Gautengl in South Africa), there is only one tractor for all emerging farmers.

Laura Lozada: At Pacifilia, we are caretakers of seeds and promoters of traditional knowledge around the plants. In Nuqu, the women who are part of the initiative are responsible for a community garden with native seeds, attempting to have a reserve of medicinal plants available for the community. Reserve is beneficial in isolated territories where access to the health system is complicated and precarious.

On the other hand, in Baha Solano, the foundation disseminates information through the radio program named “Tiempo de Juntanza” about plants in gastronomy, medicine, and tradition. Also, familiar agriculture is promoted to contribute to food security and environmental and cultural conservation.

These processes have been made possible by the will and effort of many people, some local and some outsiders, who found a home and a family in this territory, to all of them deep gratitude.

This campaign has been possible thanks to the invaluable contribution of our partners and collaborators.

Watch testimonies from women worldwide in the drop down sections below!

Sofia Cavalleri, SEI Asia and Chulalongkorn University | Thailand

Rhinah Atwjukire, Rhinah's Weaving Company | Uganda

Elén Faxö, OlsAro | Sweden

Dorah Momanyi, Nutritious Agriculture Network | Kenya

Gloria Deogratias, Tanzania Industrial Research and Development Organisation | Tanzania

Monica Nderitu, Vi Agroforesty | Kenya

Celina Butali, Vi Agroforestry | Kenya

Wangu Mutua, Vi Agroforestry | Kenya

Anita Gautam, LI-BIRD | Nepal

Renuka Tamang, smallholder farmer | Nepal

Lesego Holzapfel, BeeLoved Honey | South Africa

Judy Matu, Association of Women in Agriculture of Kenya | Kenya

Charlotte Ajiko, Charlotte's Tasty Rabbit Meat | Uganda

Suzanne Seogo Koudegm, Namangbzanga Cooperative | Burkina Faso