Africa Leading Blog

Balancing Africa’s food security scales with women-led agriculture; how media representations can lead to transformative change

In sub-Saharan Africa women are heavily involved in food production, processing, and marketing. You don’t need a statistic about African women’s significant involvement in agriculture to know how much they contribute. Just drive through a rural area and you’ll see women working tirelessly in the fields. Or if you want to buy vegetables in a town or city you’ll most likely have endless choices to buy vegetables from women vendors. Yet, on average 15% of African women are landholders and are all too often left out of decisions and policy making. In African agricultural research institutions alone, women represent 24% of researchers and only 14% hold leadership positions.

As one of Feed the Future and USAID’s food security leadership and capacity building programs, Africa Lead supports leaders and institutions across sub-Saharan Africa, from farmer groups to regional and continental organizations. In our programs we have consciously worked to support local organizations to incorporate a more balanced age and gender inclusive mix of leaders. The goals set out in the African Union’s Malabo Commitments to achieve the goals of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) call for a focus on increasing participation by women and youth in agribusiness as part of cutting poverty on the continent in half by 2025.

Even with this concerted effort by Africa Lead and others, we have consistently found the statistics to be all too true: women, as well as youth, are disproportionately underrepresented in policy discussions and leadership roles. That’s why Africa Lead set out to use mass media to catalyze change at a larger scale. In 2015 Africa Lead began planning and designing two major media activities focused on highlighting the important roles women (and youth) play in African agriculture, while also seeking to change attitudes about their inclusion in decision making. By 2016 Africa Lead launched these media programs targeting audiences in East Africa, primarily Tanzania and Kenya.

First in Tanzania, with the support of USAID Tanzania and with production partners Media For Development International (MFDI), Africa Lead launched the Kumekucha media campaign (Kumekucha is swahili for “new dawn”).  A radio and film series (a 52-week radio program and two feature length films) with an accompanying educational toolkit for communities, the media campaign was a fictional drama about farming and agribusiness in a rural Tanzanian community.

A scene from the film Kumekucha: TUNU, the first of two films in the Africa Lead supported Kumekucha media campaign implemented in Tanzania. The campaign also included a 52-week radio show. (Photo credit: MFDI)

Then with the support of USAID East Africa, Africa Lead supported production partners The Mediae Company to launch Africa’s first agriculture reality television show Don’t Lose the Plot. The reality show was a contest between four youth from Kenya and Tanzania to see who could apply their “farm-u-cation” the best, with all four contestants receiving a farming investment.

Combined, the media programming activities reached over 9 million estimated listeners and viewers. In total, the Kumekucha campaign (radio, television and film – released in Tanzania) was listened to and viewed by an estimated 4.6 million youth and 686,000 women in Tanzania, of which 3.4 million and 522,000 were high-intensity viewers (additionally the two films Kumekucha: Tunu and Kumekucha: Fatuma have over 150,000 views on YouTube). It is estimated that the pilot television season of Don’t Lose the Plot (broadcast in Kenya and Tanzania) was viewed by 4.1 million youth in Kenya and Tanzania, of which 1.4 million were high-intensity viewers.

The estimated results are from recently released impact evaluations Africa Lead commissioned to review Don’t Lose the Plot and Kumekucha, respectively. The reports tell us not only about the lessons learned related to implementing communications as development programming, but also about how much this programming changed the attitudes of women’s perception of themselves and others’ perceptions of women’s role in agriculture.

For example, Don’t Lose the Plot had viewership levels that were found to be broadly similar among young women and men, but it appears to have had a greater impact on young women in Tanzania than men with respect to whether “farming is cool”. High-intensity viewers of the reality TV show were associated with more positive attitudes towards farming, especially among Tanzanian young women. Interestingly enough, the winner of the reality TV show was a young-woman from Tanzania.

Kumekucha’s radio shows and films had a positive impact on youth knowledge in Tanzania related to the benefits of involving women in agricultural decision-making. According to respondents in the impact surveys in Tanzania, Kumekucha’s most resounding messages with audiences were focused on the empowerment of women and their involvement in decision making. Additionally, messages promoting agriculture as a business also were very influential.

Part of Kumekucha’s impact might be attributed to the strong and central roles that women played in the radio shows and both films. In the first film, Lightness, who is the main character Tunu’s female love interest, is a steady agribusiness entrepreneur who draws him to a future in farming. In the second Kumekucha film Fatuma, the story focuses on Fatuma and her daughter Neema’s dramatic journey searching for recognition for their contributions to their family farm. The female performances were so moving that Catherine Credo, who played the role of Neema, Fatuma’s daughter, won Best Actress prize in the Swahili category at the 2018 Zanzibar Film Festival.

“I knew women play a big role in farming, but until I took part in this film I never understood how big the role they play. If you consider the family, they say the father is the head of the home, but in retrospect, the woman holds everything together in the family, “ said Beatrice Taisamo, who played Fatuma in the radio and film series. “The woman’s role in the family is huge, even as she battles with issues of land ownership, she understands her role in being able to ensure her family is fed. I speak as a mother and someone who understands what it means to be the head of the family and still lack rights to own land. It limits how how much we can contribute when it comes to the development of agriculture.”

On Africa’s first agriculture reality TV show Don’t Lose the Plot, Winrose from Tanzania, who walked away with the the top prize on the show, is another example of how important it is to see women as winners in African agriculture.

“I’m happy, because it’s a surprise for me,” said Winrose during her finale interview about the impact of her “farm-u-cation”. When asked what she’d do with the prize, she said she’ll “go home and start to do the research.” She doesn’t want to plant the same things she did on her competition plot in Kenya because the land is different in Tanzania. She doesn’t “want to take a loss.”

“Transformational change” is frequently mentioned when discussing Africa’s agriculture. However, for real transformational change to occur, everyone needs to be represented, listened to, and looked to for leadership. The fact that women represent a large share of smallholder farmers on the continent should be reason enough for equal inclusion. From Africa Lead’s experience, and the evidence from our media programming sheds some light on this, a change in people’s perception of the role African women play is part of the change that must happen. More importantly, the evidence from our programs indicates that people are open and ready for this change.

African women are the first to feed the continent’s children, so why are they the last to be asked, “how will we feed a continent?” When women leaders and voices are included more equally in shaping Africa’s agriculture policies, we’ll find an answer to that question much sooner.

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