While female reality contestants in New Zealand try to win the heart of one expertly groomed male, on the other side of the world, in Tanzania, female TV contestants are busy planting, vaccinating goats and building mud storehouses to take the top spot as a Female Food Hero.
And it’s a hit. This year, it attracted 37 million viewers across Africa and America. In the past few years, it has spread from Tanzania to Ethiopia to Nigeria.
Advocacy and Campaigns Manager Eluka Kibon says Oxfam Tanzania wanted to celebrate and empower the female small-scale farmers who are the backbone of the food industry in the developing world.
“No amount of sob stories would make these policy makers act, so we decided to do the opposite by creating this positive TV show through a national broadcasting station. They wanted less of a ‘pity party’ and more of a celebration that would give them the status they deserve,” she says.
At last count, 800 million people go to bed hungry each night and these people are typically from developing nations who rely on small-scale farmers. These farmers are typically women with small plots who have been excluded from access to credit, training, and technology.
The thinking was simple – given that women are vital in creating the world’s food basket, why not give them the tools and training to grow that basket?
As well as competing to win over the hearts and minds of judges and viewers, contestants get the chance to hear from The competitors learn more about the larger economy by visiting banks and food processing companies.
Since its launch in 2011, over a thousand people have taken part and 60 female food heroes have been crowned. Each “hero” is given a cash prize ($15 – 6,000 NZD) to spend on agricultural goodies.
“They will often consult their community first. Some will buy big ticket items like tractors. Others will buy hoes.”
And although the show has opened doors into local leadership opportunities, you won’t find the winners carefully cultivating their Twitter audience. “Some of these women have a Facebook or Instagram account though they aren’t plugged into Twitter or anything. They are often famed within their village and we’re hoping these effects will ripple out.”
To spread the word, Eluka says they have been targeting young, socially connected people to bridge the urban-rural divide and gain the ear of government officials. And so far, it’s been working.
“Old men and young people are most likely to watch the show. Perhaps that’s because it’s shown during dinner-time when women are cooking? Or the content is more appealing to men? We would like to do more testing to get some insights into how this is changing attitudes.”
Five years on and Eluka is still fizzing with ideas on how to grow the show and ensure it meets its goal of engendering change. “At the moment, it is still funded by the Gates Foundation and Oxfam Ireland, so in the next few years we’ll look to make it sustainable. Ultimately, we want to create legions of new female heroes – like education heroes, land heroes, women’s rights heroes – the possibilities are endless.”
Caption: Women take part in this televised competition to take the top spot as a Female Food Hero. Coco McCabe