Oxfam’s Female Food Hero from Nigeria: A Change-Maker in Her Community

It’s about shifting the mindset…medium and small scale farming can generate income.“- 2014 Female Food Hero Monica Maigari from Kaduna State, Nigeria 

Last week  Oxfam America hosted a Brown Bag Lunch, which couldn’t have came at a better time as it was a day after International Women’s Day 2016, to share their Female Food Hero(FFH) Contest . The FFH Contest recognizes the achievement of rural women who are small stakeholder farmers and is evidence of how providing a platform for  women to be agents of change can benefit entire communities. Oxfam America had special guest Monica Maigari, one of the 2014 FFH winners in Nigeria,  to speak on her experience.  

Pictured: (L) Monica Maigari, 2014 Female Food Hero in Nigeria    (R) Manre Chirtau, Organizer of Female Food Hero Initiative in Nigeria

With the recognition as a Female Food Hero many women in Maigari’s community respected her, counted on her to be the voice of the community, and depended on her to shed light on the challenges they faced. In Nigeria where the population is 184 million people , women account for 60-79% of the workforce agriculture, but only 7.2% them own land, according to a representative from  the Female Food Hero initiative in Nigeria.

Maigari mentioned that because women are denied many land rights they have to give money or part of their harvest to use the land. This limits economic freedom for women and disproportionately undermines women’s position as the main producers of  agriculture in Nigeria.  Because of her recognition as a Female Food Hero, she has gained respect and was sent to  speak with the chief of her province advocating for her community on issues such as land-tenure rights for women. 

Oxfam is a partner  in the Movement for Community-led Development , a coalition of organizations that believe in a  gender-focused, transformative process that “empowers citizens and local authorities to transform entrenched patriarchal mindsets and take effective action.”  Oxfam’s initiatives like the FFH contest is addressing the patriarchal mindset that challenges rural women farmers and harnesses their empowerment as key change agents in communities to take action.   

As a benefit of being a Female Food Hero, Maigari  was awarded a cash prize of 200,000 Nigerian Naira (NGN), which enabled her to purchase two hectares of land to farm -which is not an easy feat for  women in Nigeria.  She also uses her land to benefit the community by allowing the land to be used as an “experiment” lab to see which crops or farming strategies work well.

The process of selecting the Female Food Hero was a national-wide effort where across Nigeria female farmers were were able to send in over 3000+ nominations ,and after a screening of the nominees, 12 finalist were selected. As one of the 12 finalists,  Magari participated in a week long of events receiving training and information surrounding women and farming, meeting other industry professionals,  and other women farmers alike. She mentioned that she is going back home and sharing the trainings received through a cooperative she has helped form.  

Monica Maigari says, “It’s important that women teach women because they listen to themselves. A man  just cant go to a women and teach, they will not accept it. Women come and they will listen. Man don’t have the patience.Women will have patience to demonstrate correctly [to other women].”

When Maigari asked what was the most important advice on replicating initiatives like the FFH contest she said the trainings should give more attention to labor saving strategies.”We need drought resistance seeds and [other technologies] that makes agriculture easier for women so they can balance [work and home duties].

By engaging women as key change agents and rethinking the power of community , long-lasting sustainable development can occur to make the dream  of living in a food-secure word without poverty a reality. However, another caveat to making that dream a reality  is recognizing the important role of women as key stakeholders in these issues. 

To view the full trailer of the Female Food Hero Initiative in Nigeria please click here



Righting the Wrong: Oxfam America’s Report on Strengthening Local Humanitarian Leadership

Oxfam America has recently released a report, Righting the Wrong: Strengthening Local Humanitarian Leadership to Save Lives and Strengthen Communities, addressing the shortfalls of humanitarian assistance, and offering solutions to this complex issue.

In 2014, humanitarian assistance hit a record high of $24.5 billion. Within the last 70 years, aid workers have made massive strides in providing life-saving services, such as healthcare, water, and physical protection.

However, demand is rapidly outstripping supply. In 2014 alone, 60 million people were displaced by political oppression and violent conflict. 138 million people were affected by catastrophic climate disasters, and since 1965 the number of these disasters has increased from 52 to an all-time high of 401 in 2005. These projections are expected to continue, as climate change causes more frequent droughts, floods and storms.

Today, only a small fraction of humanitarian aid is provided to local actors. More often, community leaders take direction from international agencies, leaving them in the lesser role of subcontractors instead of equal partners in their own countries. Oxfam America asserts that this arrangement leaves the actors no better suited in addressing a new crisis with autonomy.

Oxfam American asserts that these long-term aid shortages do not have a concrete solution. From 2004 to 2013, donors met less than two-thirds of humanitarian need requested annually. These shortfalls had devastating consequences, such as the World Food Program (WFP) suspending food aid for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in both 2014 and 2015. These cuts can be attributed to weaker economies and large cuts from usual donors such as Australia and Spain. Oxfam asserts that the main problem with humanitarian assistance is that countries and international organizations are not addressing these issues as top policy concerns.


Therefore, humanitarian assistance is often too little too late. As described by former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, “Imagine if your local fire department had to petition the mayor for money to turn on the water every time a fire broke out”.

Too often, priorities in donor countries trump those of the in-need recipient countries. For instance, the US frequently provides in-kind food aid from surplus US harvests. This practice can drive down prices in the recipient country and diminish local farm income. This can cause dependence or delays in food deliverance, as was seen with the Haitian earthquake. The US provided 72% of assistance in the form of in-kind food donations, and only 28% as cash transfers or vouchers. By contrast, Canada, Brazil, France, and the WFP provided assistance with food purchases from Haitian farmers.

The report emphasizes that it would be more cost effective to prepare communities in advance for shocks such as floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis, instead of providing assistance after the crisis has occurred. Regardless of this discovery after the crisis of the drought in the African Horn and promises from the UN, donors, and governments, only 0.4% of official development assistance over the last 30 years has been spent reducing the risk of disasters.

In order to fix this broken system, Oxfam America demands that humanitarian assistance must shift towards an emphasis on local actors. The report suggests:

  1. An insistence on more and predictable humanitarian funding
  2. An increase in direct humanitarian funding to national governments, as well as to national and local NGOs
  3. An increase in investment in disaster risk reduction before crises hit
  4. More emphasis on strengthening local capacity

Regardless of amazing accomplishment over time, the humanitarian aid community needs to do better. Crises will continue to accumulate in the future due to climate change and intractable conflicts. As the report concludes, “if we, the international humanitarian community, want to help local communities, we need to start trusting them more with their own future.”