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World Food Day finds Uganda women hungry

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When Leya Chedde, of Pallisa, scratched out her name for the first time in an adult literacy class, she took on authorship of her family’s future prosperity.  For the rural woman, getting an education proved a path to establishing food security for her family and contributing to the welfare of her entire community. 

Before learning to write, “[I] was a woman quiet in [my] house that would rarely move out and rarely had a say.  [I] would never speak in public,” said Chedde, through a translator at an Action Aid conference held October 15 in Kampala. Now the woman is the proud owner of a 32-acre farm, the chairperson of the community managed seed bank in her village and a local council leader.

Held the day before World Food Day, the conference focused on the role of women in food security. Viewing them as crucial to reducing the 68.5% of Ugandans unable to meet the recommended food caloric intake, Action Aid aimed to call attention to the problem of women’s lack of access to and control over land in the country. Women are responsible for 70-75% of agricultural production in Uganda according to organisation statistics, yet they own just 7% of the land. Action Aid’s goal is to triple this number by 2012. 

Harriet Gimbo, women’s rights policy analyst for the organisation, spoke at the conference.  Gimbo pointed to Chedde as an example of the pivotal role that women can play in feeding the nation’s rural poor. “If they are given the right information, technology, skills, knowledge and adequate resources, they should be able to transform the food security situation in Uganda.  They are very, very important.  [Chedde] is a model in her village both in terms of agricultural production and in terms of transforming the power relations in her household.”

Chedde, wearing a lime green gomesi that was in stark contrast to the heels and suits of the mostly female Kampala audience, explained in Lugwere how learning to write her name in an Action Aid literacy class opened the door for her to take further classes in agriculture.  She started farming such crops as groundnuts and maize for cash.  From just a couple of acres, she expanded her family’s farm to a spread planted with orange, mango and other fruit trees.  “From farming, you get a lot of benefits; you can get money to take your children to school. The children can be healthy because they are well-fed.  You have no worries about feeding the children,” she said.

Besides illiteracy, rural Ugandan women face a myriad other challenges when it comes to feeding their families.  Lack of infrastructure, the burden of caring for children, domestic violence and a lack of power in the home all confront them as they scramble to get food on the table, explained Gimbo.  “When you wake up in the morning, you are thinking about going to the salon and whether or not you will have chips and chicken for lunch.  The typical rural woman, her interest is in how people will eat today, will people survive tomorrow?” 

But, if Chedde is any indication, the obstacles facing women are not insurmountable.  From the proceeds of her farm, the woman built a separate house on her land for her children. The sales of her produce have put them through school and Chedde now has a daughter who will enter university next year and a son going into senior six.  She sees it as her responsibility to help others reap the benefits of education.  “[I] have taken on [my] role to advise [my] children as well as the neighbors to take their children to school because there are so many benefits when you take a child to school.”

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