I met Elizabeth Nsimadala at the launch of ONE’s Do Agric Campaign in Addis Ababa. Her passion for agriculture shone through her bold statement: “I am a proud, successful farmer. I do agriculture not only because it pays, but because I can do it better.”
Elizabeth is a wife and mother of 3 from Uganda. She is a farmer and has been since she was 20 years old, when she started working on the family farm growing crops like bananas, passion fruit and coffee and rearing goats, chicken and cattle. Her family is part of a cooperative, and, together, they have become successful farmers. According to Elizabeth, she earns more than Ugandan civil servants. Her success in farming is the result not only of the hard work that she and other farmers put in, but also a result of strong family support and, most of all, ingenuity. She remembers when her bananas started to spoil because they could not find buyers for the produce. Faced with this obstacle and the potential loss of income, they processed spoiling bananas into wine for sale. This gave her farm an additional source of income by adding value to the produce. Since then they have been processing wine and sherry from fruit.
Though there are successes, challenges do remain. Elizabeth cites, for example, lack of access to adequate technology that limits the production. She states that many farmers currently use cheap labor and machines to do their work. ONE’s Levelling the Field report showed that women in Uganda had less access to hired labor for their farm plots than male farmers. This means that they on average have lower incomes. For Elizabeth, inadequate labor and machinery means she is not always able to meet the demands of the market.
Elizabeth also says that while there is generally a good policy environment for farmers as whole, policy reforms are still needed for female farmers in particular to be economically empowered. As a case in point, women lack access to ownership of land in most Ugandan communities, a right culturally reserved for their fathers, husbands or brothers. The new constitution has removed legal constraints to land ownership by women, but many women remain unaware of their rights or are prevented from accessing land as a result of cultural norms. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 8% of women own land and women in general may “plough the land to produce food crops, but may not plant perennial crops, sell the land or use it as collateral without permission from men.”
Although women like Elizabeth may have supportive husbands, lack of ownership of land and productive resources as well as little access to finance has the effect of limiting women’s economic potential. Elizabeth’s work as a farmer, advocate and Women’s Representative within the Eastern African Farmer’s Organization, is helping to pave the way to increase support for Uganda’s women smallholder farmers.
Despite these challenge, Elizabeth Nsimadala has this to say to other women, “Young women and young girls should create their own way to destiny. Know what you want and how you will achieve it. Don’t be moved by other people, and set your own target. Believe in yourself and know you can make it. Have zeal in whatever you do.”
This is sound advice from one passionate farmer.