A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Last year (2012) October Sister Martha was named Mama Shujaa wa Chakula (female food hero) of the year in Tanzania. Early this year she moved to a new piece of land in Morogoro Region where she has used the Mama Shujaa wa Chakula prize to start a youth training center teaching and demonstrating sustainable agricultural practices to the youth.
Last week she showed us and a group of journalists and other visitors around the fields where she is already turning barren land into fertile land. Her fields are a bright patch of green in the dusty land with grey baobab trees in the background.
Sister Martha is using a wide variety of crops, deep trenching to save and use effectively the little rain they have, mulching, composting with all the waste material from the land, saving the best seeds, doing food processing and above all training the youth. She can hardly say a sentence without mentioning the youth, she wants to show them that “agriculture is not an affliction, it is employment.”
A plaque was unveiled for the youth training center and people from the area, mostly youth, joined the visitors for a celebration. Oxfam staff, Maisha plus staff, a representative from the NMB Bank that sponsored the event, and other Mama Shujaa Finalists all shared their thoughts, appreciation and congratulations to Sister Martha.
Agricutlure come first
Sister Martha also showed us the food processing they are doing, getting oil from sunflowers, making juice, chilli sauce, and more. “Agriculture first” said Sister Martha “we cannot eat without agriculture.”
Berenike Kimiro, the young winner of the Maisha Plus reality TV program that partnered with the Female Food Hero awards, was also present and shared how Sister Martha had been an example to her during her time in the Mama Shujaa/Maisha Plus village and was still an inspiration.
Yesterday Prime Minster of Tanzania, Mizengo Pinda, praised Maisha Plus for encouraging youth to take up agriculture and urged all districts to start Maisha Plus villages as has been started in Tabora Region with land allocated to young farmers. The three TV cameras and numerous journalists that followed Sister Martha around her fields showed the kind of profile that Maisha Plus and Mama Shujaa have brought to agriculture.
A global movement
Kirisi Msuya, one of the youth who has been in training at the center, said “There are many challenges in farming, but we can make it. The rain is little, but we can on our small land get a good crop using what we have learnt.”
“The example of female food heroes in Tanzania is being copied in other countries around the world,” said Jane Foster, the Country Director of Oxfam in Tanzania. “This is part of a global movement that recognizes the vital contribution that women make to agriculture and to feeding their nations.”
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