Celebrating the Multiple Roles Women Play to Feed the World


As we celebrate World Food Day and honor the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate next week, let’s recognize what’s happening far away, in a place where there isn’t enough food: My continent of Africa is suffering its worst drought in a generation.

As we gather in one of the most bountiful places on the planet, let’s remember that the failure of the African skies to pour nourishing rain onto the African soil could cost millions of people their lives.

As we look out on a harvest in the breadbasket of Iowa, let’s recall that Africa comes nowhere near its food potential—and that all of us still have a lot of work to do.

I’m about to receive one of the great honors of my life: I’m the recipient of the 2015 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award, to be presented in Des Moines, Iowa  on October 13. When I study the list of previous honorees, I’m humbled. I feel unworthy. Yet it’s good to know that my activism for rural women and farmers in Ghana has captured the attention of important people—and that maybe this award, in some small way, will advance the cause of global food security.

I wish I could be in two places at once. Accepting the Kleckner Award in Des Moines will prevent me from attending World Rural Women’s Day in Ghana. It’s scheduled to take place next Thursday, right in the middle of the World Food Prize celebration.

World Rural Women’s Day commemorates the multiple roles that women play, especially in agriculture. Here’s a fact that many people do not realize: Women are responsible for roughly half of the world’s food production. In the developing world, they account for at least 80 percent of it.

In Ghana, women like me cultivate most of our country’s vegetables, cereals, and other food crops. Even with cash crops such as cocoa, which are mostly owned by men, we weed, harvest, and transport the final product to marketplaces. More than 20 percent of our works is unpaid. It contributes to sustenance and family operations.

This year’s World Rural Women’s Day celebration will focus on land and the contributions of rural women who fish along the coastline of Ghana. Just as farmers worry about drought, fisher folk worry about the depletion of stocks—and both of these threats pose major challenges to food security.

Drought can affect farmers anywhere. As many Americans know, the long dry spell in California has devastated farmers in an area that is world famous for its agricultural productivity. The United States, however, is a developed nation—and although the drought has caused hardship, nobody expects it to lead to large-scale malnutrition and starvation in the Central Valley.

Things are different in Africa, and there are no simple solutions to its agricultural dilemmas. Farmers in my part of the world lack access to credit, land, and labor. We suffer from illiteracy, poor management skills, and bad or nonexistent infrastructure. The delivery of extension services is skewed. And although agriculture is essential, it’s also held in low regard.

One major problem is that we don’t benefit from the latest technologies. Throughout North and South America, farmers take genetically modified crops for granted. From Africa, we look on in envy, wishing we could use the same tools to overcome weeds, pests, and drought.

We don’t need handouts from wealthy countries. We just need the same opportunities to succeed.

Africa’s current drought has not yet touched Ghana, but it stretches from the Horn of Africa in the northeast to Zimbabwe and South Africa in the south. The United Nations predicts that more people in Ethiopia will need food assistance next year than in war-torn Syria.

That’s how bad things are for food security: It’s like living in a war zone.

Forecasters expect things will get worse before they get better. The drought already has delayed the growing season and it may stretch into February.

So let’s enjoy the World Food Prize next week.  It’s important to listen to each other and learn what we can. Let’s be thankful that we’ll eat well.

And let’s not forget the plight of Africa—and that we all have a role to play in making it better.

Lydia Sasu has dedicated her life to improving the lives of rural women farmers.  As a family farmer and Executive Director of the Development Action Association (DAA) in Ghana, Lydia is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network and will be recognized as the 2015 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 (www.truthabouttrade.org).

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Lydia Sasu

Lydia Sasu

Lydia Sasu has dedicated her life to improving the lives of rural women farmers. As a family farmer and Executive Director of the Development Action Association (DAA) in Ghana, Lydia.

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