I participated in a panel yesterday hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that focused on the role of women in promoting transformative agricultural development and food security. As Secretary Clinton noted, if women farmers were given equal resources – land, seeds, water, credit and access to markets – they could grow enough to feed another 150 million people each year! With this compelling fact in hand, the discussion got off to a lively start, and ranged from talk about men and tractors to talk about vitamins and land rights.
Helen Keller International has been at the forefront of linking agriculture and nutrition for many years. Our Homestead Food Production program trains women to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables and raise chickens in a familiar and accessible arena – their own household. Our program also provides education on improving nutrition, particularly during the 1,000 day window which is so critical for the proper development of children. The women not only have access to a food supply, but have the knowledge to feed the right foods in the right ways to ensure their families thrive.
Nasima is one of these success stories. She lives in the char areas of Bangladesh in a traditional household where her husband was a fisherman. Although she is responsible for the upkeep of her home, she didn’t earn much respect from her husband, nor from her father-in-law. When Helen Keller International came to her small village, her husband initially forbade her to participate in our Homestead Food Production program. He didn’t want her to spend too much time away from home and was worried that she would neglect their children – and that his dinner would not be ready when he got home. Eventually he relented since she promised she would keep up with all of her housework.
Nasima, along with 19 other ultra-poor women, learned how to plant vegetables and fruits in the small plots around their homes and was given seeds and seedlings to start her garden. She was also given chicks and shown how to care for them. She learned about the importance of vitamins and minerals and including animal source foods in the meals she prepares for her children.
She embraced having the different – and delicious – varieties of vegetables. At first, however, she was reluctant to cook eggs for her two daughters until she saw the differences their new diet made, including increasing their energy and decreasing the times they got sick.
Nasima was also able to sell surplus produce and eggs and soon was making enough money that her husband could quit his job. They began to work together in the garden, and his fishing nets became fences around their garden, although Nasima always makes it clear that she is in charge of the money earned. Now, her father-in-law asks her for money so he can go to the teahouse and even offers to look over the kids while she works in her gardens. And, Nasima and her husband set up savings accounts for their daughters so they will have even more opportunities in the future.
Now that’s feeding the future!