Opinion: Women farm through knowledge sharing

First published in Farming Matters | 32.1 | March 2016

In an attempt to solve problems, people collectively ask questions and discuss and implement solutions. Elizabeth Mpofu describes how knowledge co-creation is commonplace in the lives of people and in agroecology. From these processes, social, political, and practical innovations emerge.

Learning is a lifetime activity. Nowhere is this clearer than in agriculture, and especially among women farmers. Being responsible for over 70% of agricultural production on our continent, we farm through knowledge sharing. In complex and closely knit social groups, starting in early childhood, knowledge is birthed, nurtured and passed on. This knowledge relates to a wide range of topics, such as seed selection and storage, farming methods, nutrition and traditional medicine.

Our grandparents used to tell us: ‘chara chimwe hachitswanyi inda’, meaning: ‘for a person to achieve his or her goals they need help, ideas and knowledge from other people’. So we share knowledge as we walk to fetch water, gather firewood, during traditional ceremonies and as we take our children to clinics. Every space in our community is a space to learn and share what one knows.

As women, despite historical negligence because of patriarchy, we have used co-creation of knowledge to assert our rights and to strengthen the position of rural women. We formed groups and started to engage in farmer-to-farmer learning. We organized seed fairs to share the diversity of our own native indigenous seeds and we organised food fairs to showcase our traditional foods. This enabled us to link with consumers. By sharing ideas and sharing knowledge we joined other women’s organisations and lobbied together for favourable agricultural policies. This helped us to better understand how government structures operate.

As we women are responsible for producing enough food in times of climate change, we decided to work with other farmers and progressive researchers to co-create new ways and means of farming. After many years of perfecting our ways of farming, and because our social, ecological and economic contexts are changing, scientists and policy makers are beginning to embrace our knowledge. They see the value of our methods of ecological farming, now called agroecology, that is rooted in indigenous knowledge systems, and seeks harmony and respects mother nature. Our way of farming is currently being propagated as a way to solve the climate crisis and reduce poverty. Through knowledge co-creation with progressive scientists and many others, we as women farmers are working towards achieving food sovereignty (not food security) and producing enough food for our families.

By Elizabeth Mpofu

Elizabeth Mpofu (eliz.mpofu@gmail.com) is the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Organic Smallholder Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF)