The world of your grandparents may seem utterly different from your own. Where I live, however, it looks like nothing has changed.
I raise sorghum and maize on our family farm on less than three hectares in rural Zimbabwe—and although we live in the 21st century, we use almost exactly the same 20th-century farming methods as our grandparents.
Unfortunately, we don’t enjoy the same results. Instead, our results are worse. Like so many farmers in Africa, we’re growing less food than earlier generations. The climate has warmed up, our soil has depleted, and the pests and diseases still come—and ours is the only continent on the planet whose agricultural productivity has regressed.
The solution is to let Africa’s farmers—and especially its women farmers—gain the access to the technologies that millions of others take for granted.
When I was a girl, I took no pleasure from farming. I didn’t want to get up early, before school, to weed the fields. I didn’t like the long days in the hot sun. I didn’t want anything to do with agriculture.
Now, as a young woman, I’ve changed my mind. I love farming and see it as a road to empowerment. It’s an excellent business opportunity and I intend to farm for the rest of my life.
Yet I want to do more than merely make a living at it. I’m also hoping to scale up and reverse the trends that have cursed Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.
Last week, I became more determined than ever before to succeed. I visited Des Moines, Iowa in the United States as a part of the TATT Global Farmers Roundtable, to participate in the events surrounding the World Food Prize. By meeting farmers in other countries, I learned that we share many problems. By seeing farms in Iowa, I witnessed the tremendous potential of modern agriculture to help us overcome enormous challenges.
Now I’m taking these observations and lessons back home. I’m going to tell everybody how much we’re missing—and how much we need to catch up.
Only a few African governments allow farmers to grow genetically modified crops. Most of them, including my own, ban the practice, even though it has become a conventional way to produce food in the United States and elsewhere. In Iowa this year, farmers are talking about yields reaching all-time highs.
This disparity makes no sense. Zimbabwe should be an agricultural breadbasket, not an agriculture basket case.
We have everything to gain from biotechnology, from the means to withstand climate change through drought tolerance to the tools to defeat more traditional foes, such as weeds and pests.
These are safe and proven technologies. This fall, farmers in other countries passed an important milestone: They harvested the 4-billionth acre of genetically modified crops. Almost all of this achievement has taken place outside of Africa.
I desperately wish we could join in and grow these crops in Zimbabwe. They’re an essential part of meeting our food-security needs.
Women have a special part to play.
In every almost every home, we’re the food providers. We gather the food and prepare the meals. We’re responsible for making sure our families eat balanced diets.
Yet when we work the land, we can’t work it as we please. We don’t own enough of it—and even when we do own it, we don’t have full possession of it because we can’t make our own decisions about what technologies to use. We are stuck in the past.
Our potential is incredible. In Des Moines, I heard a presentation by Dr. Pamela Anderson, Director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She said that if more investment and innovation were targeted at women who are involved in agriculture, Africa’s gross domestic product could rise by as much as 30 percent. Putting women and girls at the center of our development focus would give Africa a much brighter future.
My granddaughters shouldn’t have to farm the way I do right now—they should have full opportunities to use the best technologies and grow the best crops.
Nyasha Mudukuti grows sorghum and maize on a family farm in Zimbabwe. She is currently studying Biotechnology at Chinhoyi University of Technology and was selected as one of 6 young scientists to attend the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB).
“Let’s take it to the women!”
Nyashsa is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).