By Jiayi Wang
DES MOINES, Iowa – “Bahati” in Swahili, means good luck and Bahati Muriga indeed had good luck when she won a Tanzanian reality television competition, Mama Shujaa Wa Chakula, for 20 million Tanzanian shillings (approximately $90,000) last year.
But it wasn’t just luck. Muriga, 39 year old widow and mother of three, excelled in food production skills in the face of climate change as a smallholder female farmer. Because of her practices, she won first prize as “Tanzania’s Female Farm Hero,” sponsored by Oxfam, an organization founded in 1942 to fight famine.
The award allowed Muriga to buy her own seven acres of land, a difficult goal for most Tanzanian female farmers. Across Africa, though women comprise the largest proportion in the agriculture workforce, many women do have not enough income to buy their own land, Muriga said.
Other than access to land, women farmers also have difficulty getting agricultural inputs, such as seeds, and working tools. Plus, flood and drought as a result of climate change directly posts a threat to their livelihood.
To help herself and others, Muriga joined women farmer groups that share farming experiences and contribute funds to help their community. Muriga expressed disappointment in the current Tanzanian policies on protecting women farmer’s rights.
“There are always a lot of good policies, but they are not (always) put into practice,” she said. Female farmers rarely see improvements in agricultural support.
The award didn’t change Muriga’s lifestyle. She farms on weekends and is headmistress at a local elementary school during the week. She lives simply: she rises at 5 a.m. every morning, makes breakfast and prepares her sons for school. After cleaning the house, she organizes the lessons she teaches. “So when I enter the classroom, it will be perfect,” she said with a confident smile.
As a “female food hero,” Muriga likes to encourage school girls to engage in agricultural activities. She also passes her experiences and skills in farming to other female farmers when asked.
The 2015 World Food Prize conference allowed Muriga an opportunity to see other small scale food producers in the world. When she visited farms during the conference, she was surprised at the agricultural inputs available to “small scale” farms in Iowa compared to Tanzania.
“What I saw was really quite different than for us.”