Women for Expo – Kudzai Makombe (IPS Africa): Women reporters on the frontline in rural areas

In the context of “Women for Expo”, Afronline interviews Kudzai Makombe, the regional director of the Inter Press Service (IPS) for Africa, who shows women around the continent are ‘rising stars’ in both agriculture and the media. ‘Women are very innovative and constantly adapt to change’, she says. ‘Never underrate a woman’.

Food security and food safety are recurring themes in IPS Africa coverage. How much effort do you put into researching these topics? How do you cover them? What is the main editorial approach?

We put a great deal of effort into researching our stories and ensuring  they are factual and accurate. IPS is a  development news agency, our philosophy is to build our stories from the ground up and tell it from the perspective of those affected. This means  our journalists have to go out into the field to interview community members on the identified issue and follow this up by sourcing expert opinions and official responses. We work with over sixty local journalists in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  These journalists have an intimate knowledge and understanding of the social, political and economic landscape within which they work and are well-placed to tell  people’s stories.

How far are women’s  issues and gender inequality in rural areas covered by IPS Africa?

Our coverage is largely developmental and targeted at amplifying the voices of those marginalized. Women are amongst the most marginalized. Our stories therefore carry a lot of women’s voices. In fact, I would say the majority of community voices are women’s, while expert and official voices are both male and female. We also track our stories in order to see the gender dynamics, including the sex of the reporter, so that we can see where changes need to take place. For example, because the majority of our reporters are men due to a range of gender-specific reasons such as mobility and resources, we try to ensure there is a better balance in our training programmes and to encourage female reporters to write for IPS Africa.

Which African networks or organizations have impressed you the most for promoting the role of women in agriculture?

I am  especially fond of La Via Campesina because it is led directly by the affected groups: they describe themselves as an international peasant movement. Women are those most affected by land rights issues- whether it is land grabs, lack of inheritance rights or resources to farm effectively. The fact La Via Campesina brings these women out to articulate their concerns and advocate for change is admirable.

You seem to have focused on gender in various ways throughout your career. In your opinion, how does being a woman impact everyday life in rural areas around Southern Africa? Have you witnessed a change in women’s social position and status in this field? In what way?

Traditional family structures in rural areas have long been transformed in much of Southern Africa, particularly as a result of the migrant labour system. This is why more than 60 percent of the rural population is female. This has been exacerbated in recent years because youth are also migrating away from rural areas. So you are left with women who bear the brunt of work in the fields and at home where they look after children and the elderly. But this is not necessarily negative. In some cases, the absence of men has given women greater control over farming and profits, making them rising stars in the sector. I have a hardworking cousin who is doing very well as a groundnut farmer and is able to look after herself and raise four children, including one who is at university. Women are also very innovative and constantly adapt to change. Never underrate a woman.

Do you recall a particular IPS news story or case study that embodies the challenges and dilemmas faced by African women in agriculture, food and nutrition?

Several  years ago when I was thematic editor Africa for IPS’ MDG3 project, one of our reporters pitched an idea for a story about how Zimbabweans in the diaspora missed traditional foods so much they would ask friends and relatives to bring over dried vegetables called mufushwa when they came to visit. The story focuses on how Zimbabwean women were surviving, and in some cases thriving off the production, processing and export of  these dried vegetables.

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

I worked for an NGO where we travelled a lot around Zimbabwe working with rural communities. People were always so welcoming, generous, willing to engage and open to ideas. I cannot remember a single instance when we felt unwelcome.

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

What we call “village chicken”. Farm factory chickens bear absolutely no resemblance to the chicken my grandmother would snatch from the ground when we came to visit. Things would happen quickly as my cousins set to work preparing and cooking a meal for us, the special guests from town.  There would soon be the lovely aroma of chicken stew made with little aside tomatoes and onions and served with sadza – a staple stiff porridge made with ground maize meal and some leafy greens freshly picked from the garden. Trust me, that is the best tasting chicken dinner ever.

By Sofia Christensen – Afronline.org

Photo credit: IPS