The price of Arabica coffee, the main cash crop in the North West Region of Cameroon collapsed on the world markets in 1980s. Initially, the men coffee farmers could not believe that their main source of income had suddenly vanished. But as the years passed and things did not change, there was a growing realization that men would have to depend on what their wives brought in from the family farms in order to simply eat.
For many men, that was the new normal. As they waited for coffee prices to recover, they sat in the village squares playing draughts and drinking palm wine. But for the women, this was a dire emergency, which they tackled with the zeal of fire-fighters. They put in longer hours on their farms, planted as many crops on every square inch as possible and fought to eke out more acreage from their husbands’ aging coffee farms.
By the mid-nineties, the men began admitting defeat but resisted the anti-traditional notion that their women were now the family breadwinners in every sense of the word. But the women were not looking back. Their farm yields became even more valuable as a rising population clamored for more food at ever higher prices. The women paid for all family priorities: children’s school fees, uniforms, books and household needs. They even gave their husbands money for their palm wine or beer.
Even in the early 2000s, when the narrative began to shift slightly to acknowledge women’s overwhelming contribution to family wellbeing, ancient traditions still hoisted the myths of men’s superiority.
However, when the first McGovern-Dole Food for Education program came into the area in 2008, it opened the eyes of the community to the vital role women really played in the life of the region.
But in the advent of the 2015 McGovern – Dole Food for Education and Child Literacy program, implemented by Nascent Solutions, the women of the region recognized a champion for their efforts: A champion that recognizes their women-specific challenges, guides them to achieve such priorities as feeding and educating their children, and provides knowledge that helps them manage family incomes. They have also embraced Nascent Solutions and the USDA-funded program for giving them a seat at the table and a voice in making the decisions affecting their communities.
That the management of Nascent Solutions is 70% female, or that our field staff skews majority female is not an attempt at reverse discrimination. It is simply because women bear the brunt of the challenges of Africa’s rural communities and we the women of Nascent, mostly born of the same soil, hear their voices better.
The theme of this year’s IWD is “Press for Progress” and Nascent is standing at the forefront for the women of Africa. So, to our grandmothers and mothers, sisters, daughters and cousins, the Women of Nascent Solutions say “We Hear You!”
Dr. Beatrice Wamey
CEO, Nascent Solutions Inc.