African smallholder farmers face many challenges, whether it’s drought, lack of adequate tools or bad roads when trying to get their crops to the market.
But perhaps none is as fundamental as being a woman.
Sabina Nyambura Gitau – a woman farmer I met in her field, north-east of Nairobi – told me about these challenges. For many years, she walked to local markets to sell her banana crop. Carrying as much as 30 kilos on her back, she earned up to 450 Kenyan Shillings – just over $5 – a day.
The constant trips, and the burden of the loads, have taken their toll. Sabina explained: “My back and legs are weak. I can’t carry much of anything.”
Like many women farmers, Sabina lacked transport solutions to get her crops to the market. She also lacked access to training and modern technologies, like improved seed varieties that could improve the quality of her banana crop.
Today, Sabina brings her bananas to market by motorcycle or donkey during the dry season. When the rains are heavy, she rents a truck.
All of these life-changing developments came about as a result of the Sabasaba Agribusiness Cooperative Society. Sabina and a few other farmers, mostly women, launched the cooperative in 2004 to source better banana seed varieties from researchers.
In 2010, with funding from AGRA and TechnoServe, they opened an Agribusiness Centre. In this small, three-room building, farmers and buyers can meet to trade bananas, milk and other goods. Just as importantly, they share news, business tips and best practice, and buy banana seedlings.
Sabina’s crops have improved, the demand from Nairobi-based buyers has increased and, with the additional income, Sabina is now able to invest more in both her business and home.
I spent last Saturday in a massive auditorium at the heart of the city of London – a place which appears to have little in common with Sabina’s world. But Sabina’s world, and the challenges she faces, were at the heart of our discussions.
The Nutrition for Growth summit brought together leaders from over 50 countries, as well as representatives from business and civil society. With high-profile speakers such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron and AGRA Chairman Kofi Annan, it was a clear indication of the global commitment to tackle hunger.
A total of US$4 billion was pledged in investment, including by a number of African Governments including Malawi and Burkina Faso.
The coming year is absolutely critical for African agriculture. Thirty African Governments have pledged to commit at least 10% of their annual budget to agriculture by end 2013 under the African Union. The majority have yet to meet this target.
If the opportunities made available to Sabina are to become a reality for many more African farmers, leaders need to keep up momentum, and meet past and new promises.