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Millet And Manhood

Burkina Faso

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[image, unknown] HOW TO FEED THE WORLD
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5 Recognise women as farmers

Millet and manhood
All across Africa women bend over their hoes in the fields.
We read reports about them, we see them on television,
but we rarely hear what they think. Here Zenabou, a
Bissa woman from Burkina Faso, talks to New Internationalist
about her life and work - and her husband adds his view.

[image, unknown] The wife[image, unknown]

MY name is Zenabou Bambara. I’m 28 and I have four children. My husband’s name is Adama Mone and my co-wife is called Mariam. Mariam was in labour last night - there is a new baby in the household. Until yesterday she worked with me in the fields, but now she will have six days rest until the naming ceremony - in that time all she has to do is fetch water and cook.

This means more work for me in the fields. It’s the third time we’ve planted but there is no rain. I’m tired, my back aches. But there is nothing to show for my work. Look at the earth. See how dry it is? The millet should be one foot high by now. but this dry ground yields only dust.

A woman’s work in the fields is important. But it is not her only work. In the morning I get up and prepare the meal, and if I have no flour I pound the grain. After that I walk to the fields which are 14 kilometres away and join my husband who has ridden there on his bike. I work the land with him until two o’clock. and then I fetch firewood to carry home. Sometimes I sell this wood to other people and get a little money for myself - then I buy something for the sauce to go with the tô* In the afternoon I have to make four trips to the well to fill the storage jar in my compound.

This work is woman’s work, and it’s because of this that a woman has more to do than a man, that she gets more tired. I would like it very much if my husband helped me, but he will not because he is the one who holds the authority. The man cannot help the woman - it is not his role.

He can demand anything of his wife but she cannot ask anything of him.

A man only has to worry about the family’s land. But I have my own field to weed too, on top of all my other work - I have to organise myself to find enough time to cultivate my own land, because every bit of food counts.

After the harvest last year my husband gave my co-wife and me some millet to keep in our huts as an emergency store. But we have used it up and have to rely on what he gives us every four days. If only it would rain we could pick leaves to make a thick sauce and make the millet stretch further.

[image, unknown] The husband[image, unknown]

I’m the one who gives the orders concerning our work and our food. With this calabash I measure out the millet to my two wives - it is up to them to make it last.

Actually, it’s true - women do work more than men. The woman works with us in the fields. Then she has to go back to the house to fetch water and firewood, grind millet into flour and cook the and sauce. She also has to wash the children. I can see for myself that she is tired, that she works too hard. But tradition and habit stop me from helping her. It is a woman’s place to do that work. I don’t see why I should help her.

Zenahou will tell her own story along with women farmers from two other African countries, in a major New Internationalist film called ‘Man-made famine’. It will be screened in the UK on Channel Four early next year. Look out for it in Australia and North America too.

*millet porridge

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as farmers

The problem
Women grow most of Africa's food, yet they are not recognised as farmers. All the aid and advice, from local extension workers right up to international institutions, goes to men. Women are denied loans for farming - even when their husband has left them. This strengthens the trend away from the subsistence food cultivation that Africa needs. since male farmers tend to choose cash crops which put money into their pockets.

The facts
. African women grow 90% of the food for family consumption and do two-thirds of all agricultural work. (UN Handbook on Women in Africa 1975)

. In developing countries 18% of households are officially headed by women, though because of male migration to cities the unofficial figure is much higher - in one southern African country it has reached 63%. (Women Headed Households, Buvinic and Youssef, US AID 1978)

. Studies in Nepal the Philippines and Swaziland show that women earn much less cash than men but that a much greater proportion of what they do earn is spent on food for the family. (The Status of Women in Nepal US AID 1987; Quizon and Evenson in Poverty as a Women's Issue, US Overseas Development Council 1978; Swaziland Ministry of Agriculture 1982)

The way forward
Everyone involved in Third World development - international organisations, voluntary aid agencies and local governments - has to recognise women’s central role as food producers and food providers. This is particularly true in Africa, where their load has to be lightened - by loans, technical advice and support for their status independent of men.

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