Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 16:25:30 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: FOOD: Million Dollar Initiative to Help African Women Farmers
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Million Dollar Initiative to Help African Women Farmers
By Thalif Deen, IPS, 13 September 1999
NEW YORK, Sep 13 (IPS) - The New York-based Hunger Project, a non- governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to ending world hunger, is launching a million dollar initiative next month to assist women farmers in Africa.
Joan Holmes, President of the Hunger Project, says the new initiative, will increase women's access to credit, education and vital agricultural inputs.
It also will enable African women to invest in basic technology which could reduce the drudgery of their work, Holmes adds.
Under the programme, thousands of women will be provided with micro credit - mostly low-interest loans - to strengthen their financial standing in society and enable them to invest in small scale agricultural ventures.
As part of this initiative, the Hunger Project's annual 'Africa Prize for Leadership' will be dedicated this year to women food farmers of Africa "who produce 80 percent of the continent's food, but who are consistently bypassed by governments and international aid programmes."
The 1999 prize will be awarded to a woman food farmer from Burkina Faso at a ceremony in New York Oct. 9 which will kick off the new initiative.
Former recipients of the award include South Africa's ex- President Nelson Mandela and Professor Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.
Holmes says that African women food farmers labour up to twice as long per week as their male counterparts - producing, processing, and transporting virtually all of Africa's food.
But yet these primary producers own only about one percent of the land. They also receive less than 7.0 percent of farm extension services, and less than 10 percent of the agricultural credit available to small farmers, she added.
Additionally, women farmers work under the constraints of being undernourished, illiterate, unskilled and lacking in decision- making power in their families, communities and nations.
According to the Hunger Project, the new initiative also will provide the opportunity to create lasting change in the status and well-being of Africa's 100 million rural women and their families.
Women farmers "are the principal force in the struggle against misery, backwardness and dependency," says Celina Cossa of the General Union of Agricultural Cooperatives in Mozambique.
Food production per capita in Africa has declined by 23 percent in the last quarter of the century, leaving more than one-third of the population suffering from malnutrition, and more than half of the population continuing to live in poverty.
"With environmental concerns limiting the amount of land which is suitable for farming, investments that increase the productivity of Africa's women food farmers are the key to ending hunger on the continent," says Holmes.
She also points out that African women, who so often are absent during the creation of policy that affects their lives, are the primary strategists for the Hunger Project initiative.
A team of grassroots leaders composed of women from West, East and Southern Africa, is developing a programme for the economic empowerment of African women farmers.
A similar micro credit project - initiated by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh -is considered one of the most successful Third World initiatives to help poor women in developing nations.
Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh said that his country had started micro credit activities more than 20 years ago providing loans mostly to rural women in the country.
In February 1997, a Micro Credit Summit was held in Washington DC where the concept achieved international status.
Last year, the UN General Assembly adopted for the first time a resolution on the role of micro credit in the eradication of poverty, and the Assembly also declared that the year 2005 be the 'International Year of Micro Credit.'
"When we are speaking about an increase in the number of very poor women being reached by micro credit institutions, we are talking about more than just an extension of financial services," says Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Micro Credit Summit Campaign.
"We are talking about a chance to start or expand a tiny business; to increase one's income; to improve one's dwelling; to purchase more nutritious food; to send children to school; and much more," he told reporters recently.
Daley-Harris says the goal of the Campaign is to reach 100 million of the world's poorest families, especially the women of those families, by the year 2005. They will be provided with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services.
Today, according to Daley-Harris, there are 34 large micro credit programmes around the world reaching 1.1 million more poor women than the 12-month period since the end of 1997.
In June 1999, the total number of poorest women reached by those programmes amounted to 6.9 million.
Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), told reporters one of the major areas of concern that emerged from the 1995 Women's Conference in Beijing has been the "feminisation of poverty."
Micro credit and micro finance in the hands of women can address these issues, reduce the proportion of women living in poverty and break the cycle of poverty, Heyzer says. (END/IPS/td/mk/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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