Comment: Embrace seeds of change for Africa

Johann Lamont, Willie Rennie, Alex Salmond and Ruth Davidson lend teir support to the Wee Box Lent initiative last year. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Johann Lamont, Willie Rennie, Alex Salmond and Ruth Davidson lend teir support to the Wee Box Lent initiative last year. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A WEE box during Lent can do huge good, writes Alistair Dutton

If the world is ever to be free from extreme poverty, which currently sees one in eight people going to bed hungry every night, we must address the injustices faced by women in developing countries.

Half of the world’s food is grown by small-scale farmers, and up to 80 per cent of these are women. Yet their harvests are up to 30 per cent smaller than those of men, who benefit from better tools, seeds, farm equipment and training. At the same time, the majority of people suffering from hunger are women. When a crisis hits, such as war, natural disaster or crop failure, women are generally the first to sacrifice their food in order to protect their family.

SCIAF has been working with small-scale farmers in countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for many years and seen the difference that providing support to women has made. Women are often central to the health and well-being of families and any improvement in their own lives is likely to be reflected in better health and education for their children. Often men move to towns and cities in search of work, leaving the women at home to maintain their small plots of land and look after the family.

The focus of our Wee Box Lent appeal this year highlights the case of Mary Jackson, a farmer from the village of Chipolomba in Malawi. Mary told us that she used to struggle to feed her family, but with a little help from people in Scotland, things are better.

“Before, we were very poor. The children had to go to bed on empty stomachs,” Mary says. “It was hard to keep them in school when they were hungry and they often missed lessons.

“The project gave us training in new ways of farming so we could grow more food. I received maize seeds, sweet potato, peas and peanuts. I was able to borrow money to set up a small business. Now I can give my children proper meals. When their shoes wear out, I can replace them. We can afford soap for washing. You’ve made real changes in my life and in the community.”

Many more women like Marycould, with the right help, work their way out of poverty, bringing long term benefits to their family and wider community.

Research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has shown that by targeting support towards small-scale farmers in a way that gives women equal access to necessities such as good seeds and training, developing countries could grow around 30 per cent more food. This would lift a staggering 150 million people out of extreme poverty.

We can all do something to help. Our Wee Box appeal will benefit from match-funding from the UK government this year so that every £1 we receive before 17 May will be doubled. Last year donations amounted to more than £800,000 so this additional money will enable SCIAF to help many more women farmers. We’re hoping people across Scotland will support us, many giving up a favourite treat like coffee or chocolate during Lent, saving the money in their Wee Boxes, and donating it to our work.

The plight of people living in poverty in developing countries is also being made worse by the onset of climate change and that’s something we need to tackle here in Scotland too.

Because of unpredictable weather, poor farmers no longer know when to plant their seeds. Once-predictable rains may not start or finish when expected, and are often too short, while flash floods and droughts can wipe out harvests. Wealthier countries such as Scotland have helped create this problem by burning fossil fuels. It’s important we do all we can to help solve the problem.

Write to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and ask what she is doing to make tackling climate change a priority of her government. Meeting our targets to cut emissions is vital if Scotland is to play its part, and so far our performance has not been good enough. But we can’t leave it all to the politicians. If Scotland is to meet our climate change targets, we must all make changes. That’s why we’re hoping many of our supporters will reduce their own carbon footprints by committing to walk or cycle instead of jumping in the car for short journeys, during Lent and beyond.

Whether it’s making a change to our own lifestyles or giving money to help women farmers, we will only ever see a world free from extreme poverty when we all act together.


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• Alistair Dutton is Director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).