During the last farming season, MADRE and our sister organization, Zenab for Women in Development, coordinated the delivery of sorghum, millet and peanut seeds to hundreds of Women Farmers' Union members in Gungulesa, Guregana and Um Khanjar, Sudan. Previously women had to commute to a central seed distribution site. This was especially significant because Sudan’s cash-strapped Ministry of Agriculture was unable to distribute seeds this year.
MADRE and Zenab also coordinate trainings in organic farming and human rights, as well as provide the women farmers with more effective farming tools and financial support for land rental. In addition to growing healthy food for their families, the women farmers are generating enough income to send their children to school. “Without the Women Farmers’ Union, I would never have earned enough to afford school fees for my children,” Hadija, a 47-year-old farmer, told us. “I am so proud because this year, I was able to send my youngest daughter to college with the income from my crops.”
One group of women farmers have pooled their extra income to fund literacy training in their village, where 95 percent of the people cannot read. In another village, the women are using their earnings to bring electricity to the community. With MADRE and Zenab’s support, these small-holder women farmers are able to create lasting food security for their families and positive change for their communities.
As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a climate change agreement this week, MADRE is emphasizing that the creation of any new policy is an opportunity to advance human rights. In particular, we are calling for world leaders to recognize small holder women farmers, including the women farmers we support in Sudan, as a crucial, but underrepresented constituency in addressing the crisis.
We are emphasizing that small holder women farmers are not only disproportionately threatened by climate change; they are also advancing practices of sustainable agriculture that hold incredible promise to confront climate change.
MADRE is providing women farmers in Sudan with organic seeds and training in sustainable farming. The women are learning techniques such as crop diversity and crop rotation to enhance soil quality, control pests and cool the planet by attracting carbon back into the soil. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “small-scale sustainable farms have been found to emit between one-half and two-thirds less carbon dioxide for every acre of production” than industrial farms.
In Sudan, climate change may bring a frightening 50 percent drop in crop yields within two generations. The effects of global climate change are already wreaking havoc in Sudan, where intermittent droughts and floods are destroying crops and livestock and making farmers’ traditional knowledge obsolete. Many of these farmers are women, who grow and harvest the majority of food crops in Sudan.
Sustainable agriculture is our best hope for feeding a growing population and restoring the stability of the climate. Worldwide, the vast majority of those who farm sustainably are women. Securing the full range of their human rights—as women, as workers, and as rural and Indigenous Peoples has always been at the heart of MADRE’s work. Now we know that these women’s rights are key to empowering them to enact solutions on which we all depend.
Thanks to MADRE’s support, the women farmers in the Al Qadarif region had a successful harvest, allowing them to pay back their entire bank loan of US$5,000. Local banks praised the women for this achievement. Because of these positive results, Zenab is now introducing women to a credit union, a benefit that they have never had before.
Another exciting result of last year’s successful harvest was that women farmers in the community of Walddaeef have begun the process of bringing electricity to their village. Fatima is optimistic that the motivation of these women to use their new income
in productive ways, will lead to “a better life” for the whole community.
Finally, Zenab purchased an events tent and chairs with the income raised from recent harvests. They rent out these supplies to communities as another source of income for the women of Walddaeef.
Women Farmers Unite has expanded to over 2000 members from 20 different villages in Al Qadarif state in Sudan. MADRE and its sister organization, Zenab for Women in Development, were able to distribute high-quality seeds to 500 women from 20 different towns.
Sorghum, sesame, and peanut seeds were distributed in July 2008 at Zenab’s center in Al Qadarif City, with 35 union representatives traveling up to five hours each way to collect seeds to bring back to their communities. Seeds were distributed by Zenab staff and volunteers from the Department of Agriculture, who calculated the amount of seeds for each community according to the area of farmland held by union members. Women who wished to grow other crops such as millet in order to better suit their families' needs were able to trade their seeds at markets.
To ensure a successful growing season and harvest, local coordinators visited different villages and spoke with union members. The coordinators also discussed plans for the winter harvest and made sure the farmers were well prepared. The use of high-quality seeds, new tools, and better training for women farmers proved to be a winning strategy. The Women Farmers’ Union celebrated their first harvest last winter, a large bumper crop that produced enough food to feed hundreds of families. The union is now preparing the soil for their next crop this summer and the women farmers have new hope that they can grow enough to feed their families and support themselves.
Al Qadarif is Sudan’s main agricultural state; 75% of sorghum, a dietary staple for many, consumed nationally has traditionally come from this region. As virtually all of Al Qadarif’s population relies on farming for their livelihoods, and a vast majority of residents live in a female-headed household, it is clear that women play a huge role in the state’s overall agricultural output. However, until 2007, women were denied entry into Sudanese farmers’ unions, and thus deprived of the information and resources crucial to a successful harvest. Here were thousands of women sitting on some of the most fertile land in all of Africa; meanwhile, war and famine were ravaging their country, and male-centered family and government structures were preventing them from lifting themselves, and their families, out of poverty.
Enter Fatima Ahmed, the director and founder of Zenab for Women in Development, MADRE’s Sudanese sister organization. Fatima comes from a legacy of community organizing. Her family has lived in Al Qadarif for many generations, and her mother, for whom Zenab is named, was well-known throughout the region as a champion of the children’s education, and girl’s education in particular. Because she is native to the region and has a comprehensive understanding of the culture and its unique challenges, Fatima has been able to gain the trust and commitment of the women farmers, along with the cooperation of government officials. She is truly an amazing and accomplished person, and this story, her story, the story of the women farmers of Al Qadarif, is inspiring.
Very little data exist on the population and agriculture of Al Qadarif, as government, scientific, and academic institutions in Sudan have been in varying states of upheaval for years. Fatima gathered information from twenty of Al Qadarif’s sixty-four villages. According to her research, 70% of households in the region are headed by women, with an average of 8.5 people per household. 72% of residents are illiterate, while 8% have obtained the U.S. equivalent of a high school degree. 99% of households studied rely on farming for either subsistence or income; poor seed and a lack of financial resources were the most commonly reported agricultural problems.
Armed with this data, project planning shifted into high gear, and we entered phase one of the project. Several women representatives from each of the 20 villages surveyed traveled to Al Qadarif City for an intensive two-day series of workshops in late March of 2008. The trainers taught interactive classes on successful agricultural techniques, basic business education, and human rights. Several participants initially exhibited some reluctance and trepidation; their wariness was warranted, as the history of outside aid in most areas of poverty and conflict has been riddled with shallow, quick-fix “solutions” that do little to address root issues, leaving the wellbeing of participants compromised. The trainers and organizers were sensitive to these needs, and by approaching them from a culturally relative perspective based on achieving lasting change, were able to not only gain the participants’ full trust, but their excitement and full commitment to the project.
Phase two of the project, which we are currently in, concerns the acquisition and preparation of land and resources. Some of the farmers own their own land, but many rent small plots from others; we have to ensure that the women from each village had enough communal farming space to sow crops for both subsistence and income. Once this is accomplished, the soil has to be readied for an optimal harvest; as the survey showed, the women had very low levels of production, due to use of poor seeds, inefficient methods, and plant and animal parasites. Tractors must be rented and shared between villages to clear this amount of space. Land is rented and cleared easily enough, but finding seeds that were of good quality and reasonably priced presented a much larger hurdle. Fatima was able to secure a meeting with then-minister of agriculture; he sagely realized the potential of this project to raise overall food productivity and standards of living in Sudan, and offered to sell Zenab sorghum, sesame, and millet seeds at a reduced price. Finding a controlled environment for seed storage was another major issue, but Fatima was also able to persuade the minister to offer space in national seed bank for Mothers’ Farm.
Phase three, the planting and harvesting of the crop, was originally slated to begin in early July of 2008. However, trends in climate change have caused the rains to come early this year, so the planting has been stepped up to late May. Fatima and the women farmers are doing everything in their power to pull together the finishing touches of land preparation, but there are still many materials, and much land, that need to be rented, and only in a matter of weeks. Your donations in these next few weeks are crucial to the success of this project!
The women are thrilled about the very real potential for individual and collective success, but they’re not yet fully equipped for this season’s quickly impending harvest. You, the Global Giving community, have the ability to make a palpable difference in the lives of many. Please give today to ensure lasting change for the women farmers of Al Qadarif.
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