Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Women of Sierra Leone Mean Business!

Despite being frequently ignored globally and locally, women play a central role in global food production. In developing countries, it is women who provide the majority of agriculture labor. In fact in sub-Saharan Africa, women produce 70-80% of household food. Yet, these women only own about 1% of the land and are usually left out of the policymaking process regarding agriculture and food production. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that if women had more access to the support of food production the amount of people without food globally would decrease by 100-150 million.

The impact that women can make in the realm of agriculture is clear in Sierra Leone where Fatmata Sesay has taken the initiative for her community. She has become the head of an organization of farmers, mostly women widowed during the civil war, and is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Government has been working with FAO to ensure that farmers have better access to seeds, machinery, fertilizer and training.

In Sierra Leone seventy percent of the population lives under the poverty line. But, Fatmata Sesay has realized that strength comes in numbers and has been working with these women to move beyond subsistence farming towards commercial based farming. She has begun to branch out to the international market and has seen her profits double. It is believed by Fatmata Sesay, as well as the FAO, that once farmers see that marketing collectively and using high-yielding seeds raises profits, they will continue to grow more crops. This will not only profit themselves and their families, but also will benefit the country as a whole.

Sierra Leone has made enormous progress in eight years since the end of its civil war, greatly due to the perseverance of farmers such as Fatmata Sesay. There is a new major support effort pushing for improved irrigation systems and feeder roads so that farmers are able to market their goods more effectively. Increasing the commercialization of Sierra Leone’s agriculture sector along with promoting farming as a business could be exactly what the country needs to spark sustained economic growth. If the momentum continues, Sierra Leone could be put on the path to greater economic prosperity.

-Gabrielle Gurian