|Women farmers at the Maisha Plus Village teach youngsters from the city how to grow and prepare their food/Sven Torfinn|
The idea was to give young contestants and millions of viewers a taste of what women in Africa go through to put food on the table with limited resources and in the face of enormous challenges. It was also a rare opportunity to celebrate them, put farming and gender issues on the agenda and force politicians to listen.
Here is a short blog post I've written for the Economist:
I'm a farmer, get me out of here
Dec 18th 2012, 9:57 by V.M. | DAR ES SALAAM
STARS of most reality television shows spend their time nibbling earwigs, sunbathing and bickering. Those taking part in a Big Brother-style show recently broadcast in Tanzania, however, had a more productive experience.
Fourteen farmers, all women, and 26 urban youngsters were thrown together in a specially constructed village under near 24-hour TV surveillance. The women set daily tasks from their own lives—growing vegetables, looking after cows or fetching water—which the teenagers had to complete in order to survive. The farmers were given farming tips and got to talk to politicians and policy-makers in the "diary room".
In Tanzania, as in many African countries, women produce much of the food that feeds their people, but few own their land. "Women are treated as tractors, but they have to treat their husbands like angels," said one of the contestants.
The Women Food Heroes competition, run by Oxfam and "Maisha Plus", a popular Tanzanian reality TV show, gave the young contestants and its viewers a taste of what women in Tanzania endure to put food on the table. It was a rare opportunity to promote women’s voices and celebrate their contribution, says Mwanahamisi Salimu of Oxfam. It was also a chance to push for them to have access to the same kind of support and rights already available to men farmers, she continues. It showed that small-scale agriculture is a sustainable way of feeding the country.
Broadcast nightly on the biggest national network and promoted on social media, radio and newspapers, the programme reached more than half the population. In the countryside, people gathered in community centres to watch it. Its popularity has forced politicians to talk about farming, a subject about which they are usually fairly quiet.
The winner, Sister Martha Mwasu Waziri from Dodoma, who won $6,300 to buy farming equipment, says she wants to turn her farm—which she built on a scrap of wasteland—into a demonstration farm to show others what they can achieve. "I learned so much here and that is more important to me than winning the competition," says Mary Kamwaka Maumbi, another finalist. "I’ve learned how to do a crop calendar, when to start breeding my pigs and when to inoculate them, how to get my produce to the market and what to do with my money. I’ll put everything into practice and will show others how to do it. It will have an impact on my whole village."