Irrigation changed my life in times of El Nino

By Sithembile Mwamakamba

20 June 2016

“The drought is there but we cannot complain and say we have been severely affected, infact we have been helping our neighbors by employing them as general hands in our farms”.  This was one general sentiment I heard when I visited farmers in Silalatshani in Filabusi, Insiza District less than a 100kms from Bulawayo in  south of Zimbabwe, a country that is suffering the worst  drought since 1992  and exacerbated by one of the most extreme El Niño impact in past 15 years.


According to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCH), El Nino has left an estimated 31.6 million people across Southern Africa food and nutrition insecure. In Zimbabwe approximately 3 million rural Zimbabweans —almost a quarter of the country’s population—are in need of food aid as the drought has adversely affected crop supplies. In February this year, the Government of Zimbabwe declared a state of disaster and issued a 2016-2017 Drought Disaster Domestic and International Appeal for assistance.

It was then surprising to hear farmers from Silatshani, an area that is subject to seasonal droughts and severe dry spells even during the rainy season, say they have not been affected by the drought. So how have these farmers survived and even thrived to an extent of employing their neighbors?

Agnes Mkhatshwa has weathered the drought quite well she believes, and she attributes this to being a member of the Silalabuhwa Irrigation Scheme, which is arguably one of the largest irrigation schemes in the Matabeleland South province of Zimbabwe.

The scheme boasts of 442.8 hectares of arable land and a ready supply of water from the nearby Silalabuhwa Dam, which when it is full holds 23,454 million cubic metres of water. Crop and livestock production and off-farm employment are the main sources of livelihoods for farmers.

Agnes is one of 845 farmers who farm an average of 0.5 hectares of land through a flood-based system of irrigation. In 2014, Agnes was selected to be part of a group of 20 farmers participating in a project, funded by the Government of Australia’s Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and implemented by a consortium of partners who include the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), which is cushioning the effects of the drought. The project “Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-farm monitoring, adaptive management and Agricultural Innovation Platforms” aims to find means of meeting the African government’s plans for greater food security while using limited water resources more sustainably.

“I long stopped dryland farming because the crops dry up and I was always making a loss. I now do all my farming under irrigation because with irrigation there is no loss. This past year was declared a drought year, but as a farmer in the irrigation scheme, I was not terribly affected by the drought, like my neighbors who practice only dry land farming.” she said as she was cutting and sorting enormous sweet potatoes tubers preparing to take them to the market in Bulawayo.

“Of course we did experience some changes in terms of water distribution and quantities because our dam was not 100% full as with other years. However, the project we are on has helped us to monitor the water in our soils so we do not just water randomly. We use the Chameleon to see if there is enough water in the soil, if not then we water”; she further testified

The chameleon Agnes is referring to is the Chameleon Soil Water Sensor. The sensor measures tension and gives an output resembling a traffic light i.e. green (plenty of water) orange (transition) and red (running out of water) at three depths. The design of the traffic light sensor combines a deep understanding of science in soil water measurement techniques and the social process of adaptive learning, particularly amongst smallholder farmers.


Amidst the worst drought in recent years in Zimbabwe, the project seems to be recording some impressive successes. During the recent project mid-term evaluation, farmers shared how they have made significant increases in yield, they have cut down significantly on the amount and frequency of irrigation, which has resulted in them having more off farm time to focus on caring for school going children.

For Agnes, she has seen the benefits of being an irrigator as she shared that “Irrigation has really changed my life. I now produce high value crops such as garlic, butternut and sugar beans. With the money I get, I am sending my daughter to university, I have never once missed a payment of her school fees and even the boarding house where she stays, I pay the lodging fee on time, and I have never had any problems”.

The ACIAR funded project started in July 2013 and will end in June 2017. It intends to influence national and multi-lateral policies for water, agriculture and food security by providing evidence to enhance sustainability components concerning water and small holder-irrigation.  For Agnes and other farmers in Silalatshani, they hope that the project will be up scaled to include more farmers so that they too can say irrigation changed their lives!

Sithembile Mwamakamba is the Programme Manager for the Climate Smart Agriculture Cluster at the Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Climate Risk to Food Security Currently Underestimated in African Policy, Says New Report

During African Agricultural Science Week, the Montpellier Panel outlines how the African Union’s Malabo Declaration can be “climate-proofed”

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KIGALI, RWANDA (14th June 2016) – Agricultural growth and food security goals set out by the African Union’s Malabo Declaration have underestimated the risk that climate change will pose, according to a new briefing paper launched today by the Montpellier Panel of African and European experts in agriculture and development.


The paper, Set for Success: Climate-Proofing the Malabo Declaration says that the Declaration adopted in 2014 by African Union nations to double agricultural productivity and end hunger by 2025, has failed to recognise the importance of investing in Africa’s scientific capacity to combat climate threats, which will be essential to meeting these goals.,


Mean temperatures across Africa are expected to rise faster than the global average, and may reach as high as 3°C to 6°C greater than pre-industrial levels. The report argues that “climate-smart agriculture”, which serves the triple purpose of increasing production, adapting to climate change and reducing agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, needs to be integrated into countries’ National Agriculture Investment Plans and become a more explicit part of the implementation of the Malabo Declaration.


“Food security and agricultural development policies in Africa will fail if they are not climate-smart”, comments Professor Sir Gordon Conway, Director of Agriculture for Impact and Chair of the Montpellier Panel “Similarly, the new climate agreement will fail unless agriculture, particularly in Africa, is transformed.”


The report cites “building resilience” as the approach that will deliver the shared agenda set out by the Malabo Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals. Adaptation and mitigation measures in agriculture have also formed a major part of the climate plans most African nations have submitted to the United Nations ahead of the Paris climate talks, signalling another major policy process this approach can contribute to. Tools that will achieve this include:


  • A “knowledge economy” that improves the scientific capacities of both individuals and institutions, supported by financial incentives and better infrastructure.
  • Technology and innovation such as crops biofortified with nutrients, drought tolerant seeds and weather data information systems.
  • Risk mitigation tools such as insurance policies that pay out to farmers following extreme climate events, and social safety net programmes that pay vulnerable households to contribute to public works can boost community resilience.
  • Sustainable intensification of agriculture production that will simultaneously improve food security and natural capital such as soil and water quality.
  • Effective climate-smart program design that will allow African nations to tap into resources from the Green Climate Fund.

The report identifies 15 successful examples of each of these interventions in action, which it argues must be scaled up rapidly if climate and development goals are to be met.


“lt will be impossible for African nations to sustain recent economic growth and continue to make progress against poverty and hunger without effectively addressing the threat of climate change” comments Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director for the International Food Policy Research Institute and Montpellier Panel member. “Without investments in resilience, costs of rebuilding after each climate shock will only continue to rise, diverting funds from other critical growth and social sectors. Climate-proofing the Malabo Declaration, for this reason, is doubly smart.”


Recommendations for donor and government action set out by the Montpellier Panel in this new report include:


  1. Building comprehensive information on climate-related stresses and shocks, both nationally and regionally, as well as their impacts on food and nutrition security.
  2. Mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture programmes into the next generation of National Agriculture Investment Plans to ensure a stronger focus on climate change and extreme weather events.
  3. Supporting African countries to develop country investment plans that reflect a stronger, collective voice for Africa in international climate policy processes.
  4. Facilitating African governments’ access to climate funds through the Green Climate Fund and other innovative finance mechanisms that will help countries implement climate-smart agriculture programmes.
  5. Improving Africa’s scientific capacity which will guide climate change adaptation and mitigation interventions in agriculture.
  6. Improving training for farmers on sustainable farming techniques, through improved extension services, farmer field schools and utilisation of digital technologies.


recommendations - NOT TO BE SHARED until 14th June

Approximately one person out of four in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be undernourished[i]. Agricultural yields vary greatly across the continent, but as a whole only averaged around 1.5 tons per hectare in 2007[ii]. The recent El Niño phenomenon has demonstrated the devastating impact that climate stress can have on production; in Malawi three million people are experiencing hunger due to the subsequent drought, and last year’s harvest was reduced by half in Madagascar and Malawi.


– ENDS –

[i] Regional Overview of Food Insecurity in Africa (FAO, 2015)

[ii] Raising Agricultural Productivity in Africa (Africa Progress Panel, 2010)


For all media requests, please contact:

Liz Sharma – – +44 (0) 7963 122988

About the Montpellier Panel:

The Montpellier Panel is a group of European and African experts from the fields of agriculture, trade ecology and global development. The panel is chaired by Professor Sir Gordon Conway, Director of Agriculture for Impact, an advocacy initiative which convenes the group. Since March 2010, the Panel has worked together to make recommendations to enable better European government support of national and regional agricultural development and food security priorities in sub-Saharan Africa.


About the Malabo Declaration

The Malabo Declaration on ‘Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods’, adopted in 2014, aims to improve nutrition and food security and increase agricultural productivity by 2025 while building resilience to the effects of climate change. Commitments include: ending hunger and halving poverty by 2025, a 10% public spending target for agriculture, doubling productivity, reducing post-harvest losses at least by half and sustain annual sector growth in agricultural GDP at least at 6%.

Read the Malabo Declaration here.

FANRPAN in Conversation with Catherine Lee J.D on climate change – the challenges, opportunities and actions for our future and giving back to our communities

Catherine Lee recently visited the FANRPAN Secretariat in Pretoria and was in conversation with the team on her views on climate change challenges, opportunities and actions.  She also elaborated on the aspect of “Giving Back” through the Justice for Women Lecture Series. 

Catherine Lee founded Lee International Business Development in 1997. She focuses her current practice around clean energy, climate change projects, programs and policies in the United States and internationally. An attorney who has served clients in South Africa, Brazil, the U.S. and Canada, she advises clients on all aspects of climate policy as well as market-based mechanisms to reduce climate pollution. These include a wide range of activities from creating and managing broad-based coalitions for climate action to advising on carbon tax schemes, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the California Carbon Reduction Law (AB 32), the Verified Carbon Standard and other carbon standards.

She also provides legal services to sellers and buyers of emission reductions, NGOs, private businesses and local governments. Lee has extensive experience in the areas of waste management, renewable energy and community resiliency. Having studied law in Brazil, she is fluent in Portuguese and has a working knowledge of Spanish.

Prior to establishing Lee International, Cathy was in private practice at one of the state of Maine’s largest firms where she represented clients in many fields including, specifically environmental matters including waste management. She managed the firm’s advocacy work before the state legislature and other governmental bodies and litigated a wide range of matters.

She is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University, and the Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. She is admitted to practice law in the state and federal courts in New York and Maine and the U.S. Supreme Court.


Thank you for being with us at FANRPAN.  Can we begin with why you have such a passion and drive for the work you do?

Thank you for inviting me and it’s a pleasure to be here to share a little bit of my own experience.  The passion for this works comes from the fact that it really matters. It has always been important to me to use my skills as a lawyer to try make a difference. Working on responses to climate change is one area in which I feel I can bring about small changes that are important to the larger picture.


When you say larger picture how do you see the world today from your perspective? According to you what are some of what we call of FANRPAN the “wicked problems” of the world?

Asking me about “wicked problems” is especially appropriate as “wicked” is a popular expression in Maine, USA where I stay. It’s used to characterize anything regarded as formidable. There are a number of so called wicked problems in the world.  In my own country one of the discouraging and wicked problems is that there continues to be resistance by national government and other political leaders that the problem of climate change even exists – that’s a wicked problem.   It is such, because it affects behaviour and means that at the national level and in those jurisdictions led by climate deniers, there will be little or no action to protect communities from the devastating effects of climate change. We are actually seeing reversals when it comes to environmental policy.  If I take a step back for a more global view, the progress on climate change is much slower than it needs to be. But I still believe that the Paris Agreement was a significant step forward because we now have, for the first time, a global framework within which we can work together to address the climate change problem.  So it is progress but it’s not progress at the rate we need and at the rate that science continues to fine tune and tell us that change is happening. We need to be able to respond quickly but at least now there is some mechanism by which we all can be assume some responsibility and act.


In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that are making us drag our feet with climate change or is it just that we do not know how to deal with the problem?

It may be a little bit of not knowing how best to respond, as the challenges are different from country to country.  I think increased scientific understanding is important because if you look at how far we have come in the last ten years, being able to understand the science is critical to being able to demonstrate that climate change is happening and understanding the impacts – this education needs to continue. However, we have also learned that believing in and understanding the science is not central to being willing and able to act. I think attitudes and resistance to accepting the significance and degree to which climate change is currently affecting us is driven in a large part by the desire to maintain the economic status quo.  Coal plants for example, do not want to stop operating, politicians often don’t want to challenge the current system even if it’s absolutely certain that continuing on as we have done will be disastrous for the planet. There is no doubt that addressing climate change is going to be expensive with billions of dollars required just to fund essential adaptation measures in the developing world. I think underlying some of the resistance in the developed countries, particularly the USA, is resistance to have to contribute to that solution – to have to cut into profit margins in order to take the steps to guard against climate change, mitigate and contribute to the adaptation activities in other parts of the world that are now suffering from our historical contribution to the problem.

Carrying on from that, I was just thinking that maybe development issues need to be looked from a political perspective. The world has become a “global village” and if we don’t work together, we stumble in finding solutions.  Using your experience from Maine, do you have any local examples you can share with us of how you have seen people trying to mitigate climate change or gain better understanding?

States in the USA have considerable political autonomy and so depending on the state you live in, you may have a governor who is the political leader of the state who is a climate denier. This is the case now in Maine and in a number of other states across the USA. These political leaders do not reflect the views of their constituents who are largely aware that climate change is real and that it is caused by human activity. They are standing in the way of effective government responses to this serious problem. We have the Obama administration trying very hard to do what it can, while the Republicans in the Congress, which is part of the national government, unwilling to take any action and in fact  resisting every initiative that the Obama administration tries to take. This then forces climate responses to move down to the state level.  In the particular states, where the governor and administration are climate deniers, it is now moves to the local level. So the absence of laws compelling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on the national level and resistance at the state level mean that it is all up to municipalities and we are seeing a tremendous amount of activity at the local level. This is a national phenomenon and we have municipalities looking at how to become sustainable – how to be resilient in the face of impacts which in many places are already being felt.

For example in Maine, we have a long coastline whose populations rely on fisheries – a traditional industry which is very significant in our economy. As the ocean waters are warming, the fisheries are changing and the species we see today are not the same ones we have seen for decades in the past. They are changing and sometimes the new species are unfamiliar to fisherman who don’t know how to deal with these new species.  But what is evident to all is that one of the most important commodities in the fishing industry – the lobster, which Maine is internationally known for, is under threat.  As the ocean waters get warmer the lobsters are moving north. At some point we are going to lose this resource that Maine has depended on – economically and also for its identity.  The fishermen are already reporting these changes are happening and so it doesn’t require some national, political agenda for people on the ground to feel the impacts and know we must do something to stop it.  People are starting to mobilise and adapt to figure out how to adjust to these impacts, as well as how to reduce emissions.


What specific local initiative are you involved in?

One initiative I have been involved in for four years is called the Maine Climate Table. It started with an effort to understand climate change messaging and how to talk to people about climate. How do you talk to people about climate change in a way that will engage them and make them understand the importance and then act, including pressuring politicians to enact the policies that we need?  The Maine Climate Table has been doing research on how people respond to climate messages – we have identified both the messages and messengers which are going to be most effective in engaging the public on climate change. Our initiative is moving rapidly forward and we have now decided on our first collective initiative which will be around energy efficiency.  We have a broad network of interests at the table that are going to be working together to figure out what can be done collectively to promote energy efficiency that no single entity or agency can achieve alone.  That’s an example of a local initiative that is trying to make a difference.


Giving Back

You emphasize on “Giving Back” and in 2011, Lee International with the support of the University of Maine School of Law, you established the Justice for Women Lecture Series.  What do you mean by giving back?

I think it starts with understanding that each one of us has some responsibility to contribute to the collective well-being – that is how I was raised. I have brothers and sister and they all give back in significant and different ways. We were raised with the belief that to be a successful human being you have to contribute and participate in something that is larger than you and help to make society a better place for everybody.


What was the drive behind establishing the Justice for Women Lecture Series?

Establishing the Justice for Women Lecture Series was very personal for me. I established it just a few months after the passing away of my father. He was very active in the community and I had for some time been travelling doing some work in South Africa, Europe and other places and was not in Maine very much. After my father’s passing I felt I needed to do something more in Maine.  It took me while to figure out what I could offer – that comes from me. I have always been involved in promoting gender equality and involved with the University Of Maine School Of Law. I have been active in their mentoring programme for many years which connects women students with women lawyers in the community, trying to help them understand their opportunities and challenges. Every year I hold a reception for all the lawyers and law students.  What I had noticed over the years is that there was tremendous interest in anything international among these women. So, many conversations later, I came up with the idea that we could create a programme that would bring some extraordinary woman leaders from the developing world to Maine once a year for five days. That woman would give one public lecture and during that week meet with different communities, organizations, individuals in the state, to talk about her work and exchange ideas.  This has resulted in motivating people in Maine to follow the lecturer’s example of leadership.

One of the things that led to this particular approach was that Maine is experiencing a lot of demographic change from immigration particularly from war torn countries in Africa.  This is causing a culture change.  The image held by the average Mainer of an African woman was that of a “victim” because of no knowledge of their culture or origins.  So, it seemed to me that something important that could come from the programme is to demonstrate that the stereotype is false and that there are extraordinary women leaders from all over the developing world whom we can learn from.  It isn’t just us helping women from other countries as they are resettled in Maine but we have a lot to learn from them as well as the leaders we bring to Maine. Each year it gets better and better and in 2016, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda has taken us to a whole new level in terms of her lecture and week of meetings with different communities.  She brought inspiration and encouragement and one cannot put a price on that.


Off the cuff question, in terms of humanity in the world and using platforms such as the Justice for Women Lecture Series, what do you see some of humanity’s biggest challenges, on a human, ethical level – to have a sense of humanity and approach to deal with the development challenges that we have?

Let me talk on top of my head with this question.  We have become such an unequal world and inequality is everywhere.  Income inequality is such a fundamental problem that prevents the kind of change and evolution that we need as a society.  I believe very strongly in equality and democracy and income equality is a major obstacle to those two objectives.



Lee International works globally providing legal, regulatory and advisory services related to climate change. In Africa, what have been some of the lessons learnt even the challenges and where do you see institutions such as FANRPAN playing a greater role?

I have spent the last 14 years working, among other areas, in clean development mechanism projects under the Kyoto Protocol – trying to help African private sector and public sector and municipalities participate in the carbon market as a way of bringing new technology and revenue into the economies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions too in a way that benefits everybody. I think education is critical – just understanding the problem to be able to create the political will to take action in the face of significant lobbying by economic interests not to take action. We see it here in South Africa, for example with the carbon tax.  Carbon tax without a doubt will be a very positive step forward for South Africa in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. South Africa could be a real model for other developing and developed countries. But there is a lot of resistance by particular interests, namely those that are going to have to find ways to reduce their emissions or pay under a carbon tax regime.  I think this dynamic of resistance by vested interests occurs everywhere and creates real challenges for us. But educating people on what climate change is and what impact it is having on every country’s economy is a first step and building capacity so that at local government level there is the ability to act and contribute to the solutions.  The FANRPAN model of serving as a platform for dialogue among key stakeholders, using evidence to support action is one we must replicate across the world as it leads to far more effective policy.


Thank you for making time with us, one last question. Women play a key and central role to addressing climate change.  What is your opinion on the role and especially the leadership of women in climate change?

Agriculture is a new field for me. I have followed it from a distance and am by no means an expert. But there are so many women who are in the trenches doing the work; there are so many examples of women leaders at high levels but also at local levels.  I think the climate champions in Africa are women and there needs to be more recognition of that fact and we need to create more opportunities for gender equality in this space of climate change. But also another way of bringing together women at the top and women at the bottom is to have a bottom up policy.  I think that women at the top – and there are far too few, need to be aware of the need to have all policymakers look at the world through a gender lens, as well as through a climate lens – in other words, every policy that gets promoted should be evaluated, among other things, based on its impact on women, based on its impact on the climate – both of those are absolutely critical and if that happens, that will be taking a giant step forward,  As said by Madeline Albright, first female Secretary of State, ÜSA, “there is a cold place in hell for women at the top who don’t help those below them”.


Thank you for the interview, any last word on FANRPAN and its work?

I am very impressed by the work of FANRPAN.  FANRPAN is finding a way to translate stories from the ground and creating platforms for policy dialogues that can have a huge impact.  I do not know of another organisation that is structured the way FANRPAN is or does the same work. We in Maine have certainly learned a lot from Dr Sibanda’s visit to Maine this past March.

Thank you.

Augmenting the Publics’ Knowledge on the Health Effects of Aflatoxin is Key to its Elimination from the Groundnut Chain in Sub Saharan Africa: An Opinion Editorial

Authors: Limbikani Matumba[1], Kerstin Hell[2], Benoit Gnonlonfin3, Mweshi Mukanga4, and Henry Njapau5


Groundnut is an important crop, economically and nutritionally in the Tropics and Subtropics. However, it is one of the most susceptible hosts for certain pathogenic fungi resulting in aflatoxin contamination. Long-term exposure to aflatoxin increases the risk of liver cancer, compromises immunity and interferes with protein metabolism and multiple micronutrients that are critical to health. Importantly, there is substantial evidence that aflatoxins increase the rate of progression from HIV infection to AIDS.


To protect citizens from the harmful effects of aflatoxins, most governments have established regulatory limits for the toxin in food including groundnuts. However this control strategy works principally in countries with a developed quality control system. Developing countries including Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have different trade practices which make the implementation of aflatoxin regulations inherently difficult. Moreover, most SSA countries lack resources for the implementation of aflatoxin regulation,  besides having favorable ecologies for toxin development. Consequently, the aflatoxin health burden is comparatively higher in developing countries. Most economies in SSA countries are predominantly agricultural-based and regulatory requirements are only met on export crops while foods on local/domestic markets are largely uncontrolled risking the health safety of the local consumers. This reductionist approach has left a large fraction of the population of SSA including the groundnuts value chain players ignorant of the health effects of aflatoxins. It is therefore not surprising that 20-30 years after inception of numerous aflatoxin control/mitigation projects in the region, the majority of consumers continue to be exposed to aflatoxin.


It is worth stressing that extensive research work has been carried out and several aflatoxin control and management strategies do exist. These are good agricultural practice, including crop rotation, timely planting, use of agro-ecologically adapted varieties, proper disease and pest management including the use of bio-control agents, breeding for resistance, timely harvesting, proper moisture control, proper cleaning and sorting, improved storage and processing. However, implementation of these sometimes labor intensive techniques demands increased public awareness on the health risk associated with consuming aflatoxin  contaminated food, so that inconsequence intermediate and end-users would be ready to pay a higher price for better quality. Moreover knowledgeable farmers are likely to ensure safety of their own food and in the process make the whole production chain safer and facilitate trade of high quality produce. In this regard, we strongly recommend that future aflatoxin control and mitigation efforts should ensure that all foodstuffs, including those sold in local/domestic markets, are safe. Key to such programs would be capacitating key players with the knowledge of the health impact of aflatoxin to buttress a campaign for the adoption of efficient technologies to reduce toxins from seed to consumption.

[1] Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (NRC campus), Food Technology and Nutrition Group, P.O Box 143, Lilongwe (

[2] International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, P.O. Box 08-0932, Cotonou, Benin (

3 Catholic University of Eastern Africa, P.O. Box 62157, 00200 Nairobi, Kenya (

4Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, P.O. Box 350007, Chilanga, Zambia (

5National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research, P.O. Box 310158, Lusaka, Zambia (


The Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), celebrates the International Women’s Day – 8 March 2016. We pay special tribute to all the women in the agricul…