Thandiwe Banda, First Lady of Zambia
Remarks at IWMF Reporting on Women and Agriculture: Africa Program
May 27, 2010
In November last year, I was privileged to be among a host of first ladies from all over the world who converged on Rome for the first ladies summit called to discuss global food security.
The summit was held as a prelude to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) heads of state world food summit at the FAO headquarters in the Italian capital.
All of us were asked to make presentations on the national experiences from our respective countries as regards the food security situation.
I made my own presentation on Zambia, highlighting our experiences at local level, the gaps that needed filling in and what steps were being made to ensure food security for our citizens.
At the end of the gathering, which was a one-day summit, I had grown wiser, more knowledgeable and much more eager to tackle the issue of food security even more aggressively.
Although our presentations were all uniquely different in that they addressed issues affecting countries with different cultural, political, social and economic backgrounds, there was one point, at which we all shared a common view.
Our diverse trajectories intertwined at the point that women were the major producers of food in the world.
And the biggest lesson many of us drew from the summit was that women from all over the world grew over 80 percent of the global food requirements and yet remained marginalized in many respects.
That was a compelling revelation that obviously urged all of us to action.
In my own case, I felt that although maternal health had become the prime subject of my five key areas of my works with the Zambian communities, food security was equally important.
I must state that already, I have a very warm and close relationship with the FAO Zambia office and, together, we are reaching out to Zambian communities, with special emphasis on conservation farming.
Special mention must go to the FAO country representative, Dr. Noureddine Mona, who has been very supportive and without whom we would not have come as far as we have.
We are going all the way to empower lead farmers who are also training others in their localities.
The reason is that we realize the importance of food sufficiency to the well-being of any country in any part of the world.
Some of the most pressing problems the world is grappling with are, in one way or another, related to food insecurity.
A case in point is the scourge of HIV/AIDS which continues to ravage our continent, decimating our valuable human resource to unimaginable levels.
With your permission, I will repeat what I told the Rome summit, when I said it is impossible to address HIV/AIDS without addressing food security.
There is a closely-knit inter-relationship between HIV/AIDS and food security in that while HIV/AIDS causes poverty in many African households, it is also true that poverty oils the wheels of HIV/AIDS.
One example worth looking at is climate change, which is another enormous challenge of our time.
This, too, is threatening the world’s food security, which is why initiatives aimed at addressing climate change need the effort of all concerned if we are to save our world.
What I have just outlined points to the central role that food security plays in our lives.
And we are all in agreement, aren’t we, that food security can only be guaranteed with good agricultural productivity.
This is why when I received the invitation from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) last month, asking me to participate in today’s media leaders forum, I was overly excited.
Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, to say my gratitude to the International Women’s Media Foundation, through the director of training Elisa Munoz, who sent me the invitation letter to today’s forum.
Today’s discussion titled Reporting on Agriculture and Women: Africa is as appropriate to current global trends as the Rome summit I have already spoken about.
It is my firm belief that by the time we hold this year’s first ladies summit, much of my presentation there will have been drawn from my experience at today’s forum.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear participants,
It is common knowledge that many of the reports we get in Africa, in both the print or electronic media, are either on politics, disasters, male-related activities or simply insignificant events.
Developmental activities in agriculture and other sectors of the economy receive very little coverage, more so when the players are women.
This is the stereotype that needs to be addressed if the economies of our respective African countries are to rise to acceptable levels.
We should, at all cost, endeavor to moving away from the practice of overseas media organizations setting the agenda for our news angles.
In so doing, however, we should also remain responsive to the good intentions of other friendly institutions whose target is to help us sustain ourselves.
It is in this vein that I wish to congratulate the International Women’s Media Foundation for providing the training that is set to change the way we perceive news, particularly women in agriculture.
You are sowing a seed whose fruits our continent will harvest with pride and satisfaction.
For this, you deserve a round of applause from all of us gathered here.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear participants,
Kindly permit me, once again, to draw the attention of media houses to the importance of highlighting the agricultural activities of women.
Being a keen reader and follower of events in the global and local media, have noticed that some steps are being taken in Zambia to give a voice to the voiceless women in agriculture.
Some media institutions have gone out of their way to show us that in as much as they would want to make profit, they are also determined to provide a service.
We have read stories of very ordinary and humble women in rural areas, some of them visually impaired, massively contributing to the national bread basket.
I see these stories every other week, and I tell myself: “this is the way to go”.
However, this is not enough. We have devoted much of our time to only covering official functions and governmental functionaries.
Many of our stories are too official. I am not saying officials should not be quoted.
My challenge is that we should blend our reports with what is happening on the ground where the women economic drivers are.
Let us go out and look for success stories of the voiceless women who are doing amazing things and providing the fuel that keeps moving the wheels of the country’s economy.
Most of these women do what they do under very difficult conditions, some of which include limited access to land.
But women being what they are, they have gone all the way to prove that no obstacle can weigh them down as long as they are determined.
It is almost unimaginable that it is, actually, in such oppressive circumstances that they have still managed to be a part of the 80 percent global figure that women contribute to food security!
This, indeed, rings true with the observation that was once made by former first lady of the united states of America, Nancy Reagan, who said that a woman is like a tea bag— only in hot water do you realize how strong she is.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Don’t you think the water has been oppressively hot for our women?
How do you keep pouring hot water on one tea bag?
It obviously loses its flavor!
This is a challenge to you, the fourth estate, who are charged with the responsibility of providing checks and balances.
How much have we done to report on the imbalances?
In Zambia, for instance, I am glad to note that there is a positive aspect in the land ownership policy as laid out by the government.
This is the reserving of 30 percent of land for women while the other 70 percent has to be equally competed for between men and women.
Yet, how many women know that this is the case?
As media, how much have we done to sensitize women on the 30 percent reserved for them?
If they know about it, do they know how to access this land?
Are we part of the solution or we are actually helping to perpetuate the status quo?
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another of the hindrances facing women in agriculture is limited access to credit.
Most of these women who grow much of our food requirements do not have enough collateral to help them access credit from financial lending institutions.
It is commercial farmers who afford the collateral to access credit.
Yet, for most of them, their focus is the export market and mainly driven by profit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Africa needs to change the way it views and reports on agriculture.
Change has to begin from within ourselves as Africans.
I will go further by challenging all of us gathered here today to ensure that change begins from this hall at this very moment.
I am aware that each of our African countries has unique characteristics but I also know that many of our challenges are inter-linked.
It was once said that in a progressive country, change is constant; change is inevitable.
So whether you come from Zambia, mail or Uganda, the challenge is that we should initiate change in the way we run our stories on agriculture and women in particular.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I sincerely thank you for your attention.
May god bless us all.