International Women's Day 2016

Past events

A voice for women farmers

March 7, 2016
  • Central Africa

A farmer herself, Elisabeth Atangana is passionate about the need for effective associations to give a voice to producers and the importance of acknowledging women’s contribution to agriculture. She has been instrumental in shaping the farmers’ movement in her native Cameroon, as well as at regional and continental levels. A former head of the Pan African Farmers’ Organization (PAFO), she is currently President of the Regional Platform of Farmers’ and Producers’ Organizations of Central Africa (PROPAC), as well as Special Ambassador for Cooperatives at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Why are women so important for agricultural development?

In an African setting, women play an extremely important role in household farming. Women in most rural areas work on the family farm. Overall, some 70% of agricultural labour is supplied by women for both subsistence and cash-crop farming – coffee, cocoa, groundnuts and even cotton. So women are very important for household food and nutrition security and also for income generation, since they are engaged in the agrifood industry and food processing. For example, in our region women are responsible for processing cassava, maize and vegetables, and they also handle the marketing at local and national level.

Has their role been sufficiently acknowledged, for example by governments?

In a sense, women's role has gained recognition. For example, we now have the International Day of Women. But concrete action in favour of women is still lagging. In the case of African rural women, we know from experience that areas where change is needed include land security and access to natural resources, credit, training and capacity strengthening, so that women can take leadership roles and participate in decision-making. There is also the question of investment to support the social and economic empowerment of women, as well as continuing education and training for women in villages, so that they are better placed to handle issues of health, nutrition, processing and market access.

What do rural women lack to make their voices heard?

As gender ambassador for PAFO and FAO Special Ambassador for Cooperatives, we have taken several initiatives to organise a framework for dialogue and we have shared this idea with pan-African leaders. This process is still ongoing, but we believe that through this dialogue we can create a roadmap that will enable us to work together on common issues that affect African women. So this is already a space that will help to strengthen women's capacities to express themselves, as well as increasing the scope for change, for acquiring knowledge and for mobilising partners in favour of women – that means governments, development partners, NGOs and even the private sector. It's a dream for us to have this framework. But the challenge is to convince all the actors to support this process, so that women can be heard.

On a more personal note, is it difficult is to be a woman in a powerful role such as yours?

It's extremely difficult as a woman. In the beginning, I had to convince my family to allow me to go out and work for the community. I had to work hard to show results that would support my conviction for becoming involved. Then there was the difficulty of the outside environment, by which I mean people with whom I worked, other farmers' leaders and partners with whom I needed to hold discussions. I was constantly having to negotiate in order to be listened to. I managed to convince my family through the results that they saw, first in the local community and later at national and regional, continental and even global level. Today, everyone accepts that my engagement has been useful, but it took time to persuade this environment, and my family. For a woman, it's very hard indeed.

What achievements are you most proud of in your career to date?

In physical terms, one of the greatest achievements has been to provide water to communities, through initiatives in more than 109 villages. After that, I would cite the setting in place of a training centre to help poor young people – girls and boys – and enable them to develop skills in the agricultural sector. That is something of which I am extremely proud. The third achievement would be my contribution to the process of building a farmers' movement in Central Africa and to the movement at continental level. All this was then crowned by my nomination as FAO Special Ambassador for Cooperatives.

What would you like to see happen in the future – for Africa and especially for women?

I have a great deal of faith in African women. I am also confident that in Africa women will come to be acknowledged as a pillar for improving the agriculture sector. I believe that women's empowerment is crucial if Africa is going to feed itself and create opportunities, not just for women but also for educating young people, so they can take up the mantle in the rural and agricultural sector.

Do you come from a farming background?

I come from a family of farmers. My grandparents raised cattle and I farm pigs and have done since my childhood, and I also cultivate bananas and maize. It's a sector that I know very well. I live on my farm, which is outside Yaoundé, and even when I am away I always closely follow what is happening on my farm.

Can you give us a glimpse of your personal life? Where do you live and how do you spend your spare time?

I am an avid reader and enjoy music. I don't have a great deal of spare time, but I always try to find moments to share with women in associations. I believe it is very important to maintain links with the grassroots of the community.

Tomorrow on, read on overview of CTA's commitment to a gender-sensitive agricultural and rural development in ACP countries.

Participate in a Twitter chat with Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim on 8 March 2016, between 1:30 and 3:00 pm (UTC).

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, join the first tweet chat organized by CTA (@CTAflash) with our special guest Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a young international activist for the rights of indigenous people on climate change. Read Hindou's story A champion for the rights of indigenous people