Across the diverse landscapes of Africa, a silent force drives food security and economic growth – smallholder farmers.
Over 80 percent of agricultural land is cultivated not by vast corporations but by these dedicated families tending their plots. In addition to their role as cultural and social custodians, they are the unsung heroes responsible for most of the continent’s food production, contributing 23 percent to its gross domestic product (GDP).
They also form the backbone of countless communities and nations, employing, on average, 60 percent of Africa’s rural population. These unsung individuals and families, suffering from the vagaries of climate change and unsupported by technological innovations, work tirelessly with minimal resources.
Celebrating farmers’ invaluable contributions
However, their toil is rarely recognized as the center stage of our existence where it deserves.
A national farmers’ day in the Global South would be a momentous occasion, celebrating their invaluable contributions. It would serve as a platform to increase their visibility, empower them through recognition and collaboration, attract new entrants to the sector, promote innovative and sustainable practices, and ultimately strengthen national food security and rural development.
As part of the drive towards celebrating this vital role of farmers across the Global South, the Alliance for Science collaborated with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture to organize a National Farmers’ Day brainstorming workshop.
This event, hosted by Dr Meles Mekonnen, State Minister, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Sector, under the leadership of the Extension Directorate, and led by Ato GebreMedhin Woldegiorgis and Ato Muhiddin Nuru of the Alemaya Agricultural Professionals Association was held at the Elilly Hotel in Addis Ababa on December 7.
It brought together various stakeholders and representatives from the MoA, civil society, national and international NGOs, and farmers.
The workshop, facilitated by Ato Tezera Getahun, Executive Director for the Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia, produced poignant tributes to farmers and their contributions by Dr Meles, W/ro Yenenesh Egu, Director of Agricultural Extension, amongst many others.
They emphasized that a national farmers’ day is a necessary platform to elevate their status, providing a stage where not only the societal stigma attached to farming is shifted, but their pivotal role takes center stage, resonating throughout the nation.
“National Farmers’ Day is not just about handing out prizes and basking in the glow of past achievements. It’s about amplifying the voices of these silent heroes, giving them a national stage to be seen, heard, and celebrated as the rightful owners of our progress,” Dr Meles said.
Other notable figures present also shared insights into the importance of National Farmers’ Day. At the same time, some informed the group that Ethiopia had previously attempted to recognize selected farmers and related fields with celebrations and prizes in a rotating platform from region to region annually from 1998 to 2006 but was abandoned for lack of funds.
Dr Sheila Ochugboju, the Alliance for Science Executive Director, shared a global vision of advocating national farmers’ days. The Alliance actively works towards similar celebrations in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia, Guatemala, and Bangladesh.
She emphasized that “a National Farmers Day will also form a platform for knowledge exchange, a marketplace for scientific and technological innovations, where farmers will be able to engage with industry leaders, learn from scientific advancements, share their knowledge, and connect and collaborate with themselves and other potential partners.”
The workshop concluded with two main decisions: the unanimous agreement to build on the previous attempt to recognize farmers and work towards a National Farmers’ Day and the nomination of a nine-person task force to take the project forward.
A diverse task force was assembled to guide this new composition, its members drawn from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Alemeya Agricultural Professionals Association, civil society, and the Alliance for Science.
Members of the Alliance seized the opportunity to be in the country to visit the Ethiopian National Biotechnological Research Centre and the Potato Research Center based at the Holeta Agricultural Research Centre.
Showcase the impactful stories
The visits shed an understanding of Ethiopia’s ongoing efforts to enhance crucial crops, vegetables, and animal products towards food security.
The Alliance plans to showcase the impactful stories of individuals like Mr G Medhhin of the Alemaya Agricultural Professionals Association, who used to lead the potato research team, and Dr Tadesse Daba of AATF working on various biotechnological innovations, including speeding up the fermentation process of the local injera, contributing significantly to the country’s progress.
Ake Mamo is the Communications Director at the Alliance for Science.