Article written

  • on 17.07.2014
  • at 03:30 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Women for Expo – Tarikua Woldetsadick (CTA): The importance of gender equality begins with mathematics 1

“No society, no country can achieve sustainable food security or agricultural development by ignoring half of world’s population”, says Tarikua Woldetsadick, in charge of gender strategy at the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), an ACP-EU joint international institution with the mission to advance food and nutritional security and ensure a sustainable use of natural resources in ACP countries. This interview is the first in a series to be published in the framework of “Women for Expo”, a project promoted by Expo 2015.

As the focal point for CTA’s Gender Strategy, how do you operate and what are your main objectives?

My next most important objective is to develop a concrete, step by step guide to implement the new gender strategy. As an officer of CTA’s Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation (LME) Unit I have the privilege of being involved in the crucial phases of a project’s or programme’s life cycle. This position gives me the opportunity to ensure and support the integration of gender issues at all the stages of CTA’s interventions. My role will also include being in charge of designing and implementing progress markers to measure the success of mainstreaming of gender across the Centre. A final element of my responsibilities will also be to keep CTA up to date with developments on the issue of gender and agriculture around the world. There are so many lessons and good practices out there to be shared, up scaled and debated. As the knowledge organisation of reference for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, CTA will not only have to be aware of these issues but actually be at the forefront of bringing them to light.

One of the main problems for women in agriculture is the limited access to productive resources such as land tenure, credit, training and information technologies. Why is this the case, and what are main the difficulties you face in tackling these unbalances?

Women in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are a very heterogeneous group. The reasons women still have difficulty in accessing these resources depend on the context of the geographical location referred to. In addition, reasons are interlinked or are a consequence of each other thereby weaving a complex maze of negative factors. For example, girls may be deprived of education for cultural reasons which favour boys. This then impacts their access to ICTs and credit. As much as understanding these reasons and context is important, what is essential is to demonstrate that entire societies benefit from giving women the same opportunities as men. For example, a 10 USD increase in a woman’s income brings about the same impact on a household’s food and nutrition security as a 110 USD rise in a man’s income. With this new gender strategy, CTA aims to multiply and replicate examples like this to create the mobilisation necessary for the improvement of women’s livelihoods on a large scale.

In your opinion, why does gender equality and the empowerment of women play such a crucial role in the future of agricultural development and food security? Have you witnessed on-the-ground benefits of such approaches over the course of your career?

 Firstly, it makes mathematical sense to include women in any development initiative as they constitute half the world’s population. This is also true of our African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. No society, no country can achieve sustainable food security or agricultural development by ignoring this half of its population. Secondly, the benefits of empowering women financially, technically and politically not only affects the human development of entire countries but is the only way of guaranteeing sustainability for future generations. In Ghana, for example, women who were provided with the training and start up finance necessary to scale up their cocoa produce and sell their product to large-scale buyers then invested the money into a library for their children’s school. Personal stories from these women actually show the first thing they invest in is their own families – clothing, food, sanitation, education. And that is how change is brought about: one family at a time.

On a personal level, what is your most powerful memory of rural Africa?

I was a fresh, 21-year-old law school graduate when I took up a summer job with GTZ (now GIZ) in Debra Tabor, Northern Ethiopia. My job was easy enough but it involved spending two months in this farming village. So there I was with my urban habits and idealism, filled with the constitutional promise of the right to food and expecting three meals a day accompanied by a traditional Ethiopian coffee. I learnt brutally on my first day that not only do farmers not eat three meals, but that sugar and salt are luxury products not to be wasted on a daily coffee ritual. I was appalled, angry and ready to rebel against the government for neglecting its duty, and brought to tears by how hard women worked to feed their families. They were so malnourished that by thirty they had lost most of their teeth. Yet wherever I went and whichever farmer family I visited, they always served food and it was considered an offence not to eat it. Once a woman in a family I was seeing started crying while watching me eat. I was unsure on how to react so I enquired why she was crying, and she replied asking whether there was any food in the capital where I lived. When I asked what she meant she said: “well because you are so skinny!” There I was with my big ideas and these women felt sorry for me. It was a lesson I will never forget.

Is there a dish that has a particularly important meaning for you and why? Can you share the recipe? 

It’s not so much a dish but a New Year’s ritual. In Ethiopia, there is this traditional medicine we call ‘feto’ but whose Latin name is Lepidium sativum. The feto is prepared by taking a handful of the small black grains, medium roasting them, grounding them and mixing the powder with lemon juice and a bit of salt. This result is then used with a small portion of injera (traditional bread made with teff – endemic grain and staple food for Ethiopians) which is broken into pieces by hand and dipped into the mix. It is of a highly medicinal value, and must be taken in very small portions because it has laxative properties. A spoonful is more than enough. New Year being the time of new beginnings, in the early hours of the day every family in Ethiopia is awoken by the woman of the house to receive a mouthful of this bitter concoction. In my family this woman was my grandmother. I still remember her shaky hands sending the stuff down my throat when I was not even properly awake. Today I carry ground feto with me everywhere in the world, and take it whenever I have an upset stomach or simply to smell and remember my grandmother.

The theme chosen for Expo Milano 2015 is ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. In what way can this Universal Exposition promote the role of African women in the future of agricultural development and sustainability?

Despite all the information and knowledge we can access today, and the lessons shared on the role of African women in agriculture, there is still unsufficient understanding on the issue. For example, a number of donor-led interventions fail in Africa because there is a blanket assumption one master solution exists for the entire continent. The best contribution forums like Expo Milano 2015 can make is to highlight time and time again that Africa is a continent of over 1000 languages and 54 countries, and that there cannot be a one size fits all solution to the problems of women in agriculture.

By Sofia Christensen and Joshua Massarenti –

Photo credit: CTA

Click here for more information on Expo 2015 and here on Women for Expo.

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  1. […] Tarikua Getachew Woldetsadik has an LLM in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria and MA in Public Administration from the Ecole Natioanle d’Administration in France. She has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia and as country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo for an international NGO. Besides publishing papers on issues of food security and conducting consultancy work, she taught human rights at the Law Faculty of the University of Addis Ababa. She is currently in charge of gender strategy at the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, an ACP-EU joint international institution. In an interview with AfroLine, the voice of Africa, she talks about her project on gender and agriculture. Find it here. […]

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