KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
PERHAPS Marsha Moyo, in her 2001 publication Zambia: Women Celebrated, about the achievements of several women in the country, best summarises the life of Cecilia Violet Makota.
â€œSouth African born but a naturalised Zambian, Cecilia came to Northern Rhodesia in 1950 fleeing the apartheid regime. After teaching for 35 years, in 1993, she purchased a 30-acre farm on which she cultivated sunflower, soya beans, groundnuts and sorghum.
â€œIn 1999, she won the Ma-Africa award for rural creativity of African art and crafts. She is the national co-ordinator of the community based organisation, Zambia Women inÂ Agriculture, and strives to encourage more women to be at the head of the production sector, not only consumers. She is a mother of six with 21 grandchildren and two great grandchildren,â€ Ms Moyo wrote in the book which was supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
Indeed some will remember Mama Cecilia, who died on Tuesday in Lusaka and was buried on Saturday at Leopards Hill Memorial Park, as a heroine of the Southern African struggle who decided to remain in Zambia even after South Africa obtained majority rule. Others will remember her as an educationist through Tree Tops School in Lusakaâ€™s Kabwata township.
But globally, Mama Cecilia, a daughter of Zimbabwean immigrants, was largely known for her efforts to develop agriculture, particularly among rural women.
She was actually called Mama Agriculture.
For her efforts to develop agriculture, she was one of the laureates of the prize for womenâ€™s creativity in rural life from the World Women Summit Foundation (WWSF), a humanitarian, non-governmental and international, non-confessional and non-profit organisation with the United Nations that works for a new development paradigm with and for women and children.
Mama Cecilia, as some called her, attended the first International Women in Agriculture Conference that was held in Victoria, Australia, in July 1994. The conference attracted over 850 participants from 33 countries, and was the largest agricultural conference held in Australia.
It was a pivotal moment for the women in agriculture movement and in the process of securing a voice in decision making for rural women, nationally and internationally.
Not surprising therefore, in the same year, Mama Cecilia founded the Zambian Women in Agriculture, which represents about 5,000 women peasant farmers.
She formed the organisation having recognised that in the Zambian society, women farmers are voiceless and their contribution to household and national food security largely goes unrecognised.
That is why in 1996 she launched the first World Rural Womenâ€™s Day event which was a parade, encouraging over 100 women farmers to join her.
Otherwise, the Zambian Women in Agriculture works to build better transportation and marketing systems for agriculture, gathering agriculture produce from its members in districts and seeking out buyers.
It also trains its members to adopt modern and sustainable farming methods that conserve the soil and water by using mulch to minimise erosion and improve growing conditions for the plants.
Additionally, the association also encourages its members to grow crops that can adapt to changing weather seasons such as high and low rainfall seasons.
They have also engaged the private sector to improve rural incomes.
â€œExpanding private sector involvement in rural agriculture marketing and supply activities is a long term solution to food security in this country,â€ Mama was quoted as having told the Inter-Press Service Agence (IPS) in an interview in 2008.
â€œLack of a guaranteed market and higher input costs sometimes discourages our membersâ€¦But to enable farmers to produce more and to have food security in this country, government should provide access to appropriate seeds, market outlets, storage and processing facilities.â€
Mama Cecilia certainly knew what was needed to uplift agriculture in rural areas.
In 2011, she told the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) that certain cultural practices that tend to favour men, giving them an upper hand in making decisions on agriculture practices, were responsible for the negative attitudes to the development of agriculture in rural areas.
â€œThereâ€™s this thinking in our communities that agriculture is for men. I would ask womenfolk to take up the mantle and help change thinking at both [the] community and national level that only men can manage farming,â€ she explained.
Her hope was that the Zambian government will pursue a policy that grants land ownership to women as they have an important role to play in their communities.
â€œI would be happy to see more women being given access to land ownership. That in turn gives them access to finance so they can borrow against the land they own as collateral.â€
She also had a message for women thinking about farming as a profession.
â€œGo for it. There are many opportunities you can engage in. You have opportunities in poultry, pig farming and other cash crops,â€ she said.
Now, who will speak for the women in agriculture?
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka