Youthful and unassuming, Chikondi Precious Chabvuta may look like an ordinary girl. But getting to know her better, like how our Albert Sharra did, will leave you with great admiration. A recipient of several international awards, she now pursues a Masterâ€™s degree in Environmental Science.
You have recently been recognised by Moremi Initiative for Womenâ€™s Leadership in Africa (Milead). What does this mean to you?
It means a lot to me and my country. I am very excited. I am also humbled and honoured for being able to be a representative of my country in 2012 on the most outstanding young woman who is making change. It is a very big achievement for me and my country. It is also giving me the responsibility to do more than what I have done so far.
What do you think has earned you the recognition?
Hard work and how much it has impacted largely on this country. The 25 selected Milead Fellows are some of Africaâ€™s most extraordinary young women leaders with the courage and commitment to lead and shape their communities and Africaâ€™s future as a whole.
The 2012 Fellows are between the ages of 19 and 25, but are already actively leading change on pertinent issues both at the grassroots and international level. From over 1,240 applications from 41 countries, I was one of the selected Fellows of 2012 and will soon become part of the growing Milead community of young women leaders.
Is this your first international recognition?
No! In 2011, I was also recognised for the Young African Women Leaders (Yawl), and was part of the lucky 75 women from across the continent who had the privilege of meeting Michelle Obama and other strong women from Africa and abroad. This was through the US embassy to Malawi via the White House in Washington.
After some time, during the same year, I became a beneficiary of the USAâ€™s New Mexico State Universityâ€™s Service Learning for women programme that seeks to inspire and empower women in agricultural careers.
I am also a 2010 fellow of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (Award). Award is a professional development programme that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa.
How has being part of the Young African Women Leaders (Yawl) programme benefitted Malawi?
Being part of this grouping has a lot of benefits, for instance, networking and sharing of opportunities. My being one of the Yawls is helping me learn from my friends across the continent and replicate what is working well and implement in my country.
Through the same network, recently, two Malawian girls from Mtandire, who are at Kamkodole Primary School, have been ear-marked to participate in the African Daughter Conference in South Africa, Johannesburg. The conference has been organised by an organisation in South Africa that deals with the rural and slum dwelling girl child.
Award is another professional development programme that will benefit Malawi. Its objective is to strengthen research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa.
Â How did you become a gender activist?
Soon after I had finished my degree at Bunda College, I was involved in a research that was related to my dissertation at the college. I was working on human manure and urine to research its effectiveness on crop yield. I was attached at the Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) where I was in direct contact with women from Malawi Homeless Peoples Federation.
They were hardworking women. I enjoyed what I was doing and that is where I developed a passion to work with the woman farmer.
While doing my Masterâ€™s degree in Enviromental Science at Chancellor College, I found a job at Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) where I am currently working on gender, HIV, Aids mainstreaming and women empowerment. This was possible because of the knowledge I got through my fellowship with Award where gender and diversity is the core of the business and my zeal to work for the woman farmer in improving agriculture.
My responsibility is to try to bring gender equality and women empowerment to every programme within the union for the members of FUM and upcoming associations especially in agricultural marketing.
Gender is one of the main challenges affecting agriculture. How do you describe the situation in Malawi?
Women in Malawi are about 51 percent of the total population but are marginalised in social and economic spheres, including agriculture. As scientists we notice that there is disparity between men and women in access and control of agriculture production resources and services. For example, fewer women access extension services.
The average land holding size for female headed households is lower. Women, especially widows, are the main victims of agricultural related property-grabbing including land, oxen, ploughs and inputs. Although these practices seem to be decreasing in urban areas, they are still rampant in rural areas.
The participation of women in decision-making in the agriculture sector is limited as the process is dominated by men. Data shows that not only in marriages but even at institutional level, most organisations are headed by males, and that is the situation I deal with every day. Nevertheless, women provide about 70-75 percent of the labour force in agriculture. They provide 80 percent of food for home consumption yet they have little or no control over the produce and benefits.
What do you think should be done?
Women should be given a chance to participate in decision making. Women have a lot to say when it comes to agriculture. Their voice and contribution have to be recognised.
I also feel the men have to be part of this much needed radical change. Culturally, they are in control of resources. They should allow women to have some control too.
There is also a need to look into our legal system. It needs to accommodate female participation in all spheres of agriculture. Data from several studies shows the benefits of inclusion. This should be in ownership, the marketing of agricultural goods, unequal division of labour, institutional capacity issues, policy, agro biodiversity and several other issues.
From what you have done so far, is there anything you think has impacted most on your society or country?
I think my first job has had an impact where I was working with women in promoting ecological sanitation. So far, I look back and see the imprint I left on those remarkable women, and I pat myself on the back. I am now working with more women and the impact is yet to be realised.
What makes you stand out?
My hard work, determination, focus, positive spirit, confidence, cooperativeness, capacity to communicate, and curiosity set me apart.
Where do you expect to see yourself in the near future?
I have several goals to achieve. I want to make sure I build my career, study for a PhD while I am still young. I want to make a big impact on Malawian women and girls in agriculture and environment. I want to do a lot of research and publish in books and journals. I want to contribute to policy by becoming a politician later on.
What is your life philosophy?
Anything is possible. The right ingredients are determination, focus and hard work. You can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do.
Â What are your weaknesses and strengths?
My strengths are in hard work, determination, focus, positive spirit, confidence, cooperativeness, capacity to communicate, curiosity. My weakness would be being too detailed on everything.
Do you have role models?
I have several, but Wangari Matthai who fought for environmental justice despite all the resistance stands out for me. I want to stand up for what I believe in till the end. Linda Stout (my American mother) is also my role model because of her selflessness and generosity and her passion to change peoplesâ€™ lives for the better. My mother, Dr. Yanira Mtupanyama, Dr. Grace Malindi are a few of the many I have.
Â Who are the people in your group of friends?
My boyfriend Kumbukani Mkawa who has been my childhood friend, my best friend and advisor! My sisters Tamanda Ellen, Annie, my two brothers Pempho and Zaithwa. I have a lot of friends. A whole lot! Â My circle of friends is full of boys and girls who bring positive energy. They are ambitious and hard working.
TRACKING CHIKONDIâ€™S JOURNEY
.Born on 18th June 1988 at Likuni Hospital in Lilongwe
.Went to Mphungu primary school- Lilongwe 2000
Secondary Marymount Catholic Secondary School 2004
.Holds Bachelorâ€™s Degree in Environmental Sciences (UNIMA-Bunda College)-2009
.Worked at Bunda, Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE)
.Currently working with Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM)
.Has won several international awards in the field of agriculture