by Siza Mtimkulu

The crucial link

Women are envisioned as critical to agricultural development

Women are at the centre of agricultural development
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Efforts are afoot to address this problem, with agriculture as a sector identified as crucial in job creation and ensuring food security for families and communities in South Africa. Stories of women being encouraged to get involved in farming are becoming commonplace in the media. 

Because of its practicality, farming is seen as a feasible vehicle to helping combat food shortage and creating jobs. It is doable on a small as well as large scale, in one’s own backyard, in school yards, church yards as well as in vacant plots in rural as well as peri-urban communities. Throughout the country various farming activities are taking place to encourage women participation in this sector. In Orange Farm, a semi informal settlement in the South of Gauteng, Getrude Ramashitsa wakes up early every morning to water her carrots, spinach, tomatoes and potatoes growing in her medium-sized backyard. “I’m proud of my garden and the work I’ve done because I’m using the resources I have to empower myself while feeding the community and my family.” 

Together with other women farmers in her area, she supplies neighbouring supermarkets and restaurants with produce.  

Gauteng MEC of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, says this about women in farming:  “The link between women and agriculture is crucial as agriculture remains that backbone of our economy, women are the bedrock upon which families are built. We are resolute in our commitment towards the total emancipation of women.” 

She made this statement recently, at the annual Agri-Business Woman of the Year Awards, which is sponsored by the petroleum company, TOTAL, through its corporate social investment (CSI) department.The overall winner, Flora Shilaluke (46) took home R140 000. She owns a 21-hectare farm in Leeufontein near Bronkhorstspruit, and has four farming enterprises with poultry layers as the main enterprise. 

“With agriculture, there is no hunger and I have been working very hard since I started farming in 2008,” she said about her participation in farming. The mother of four has employed two women and six local men, in permanent employ.

Sizakele Mshumayeli of Kwagomani in KwaZulu-Natal who has no formal education and owns 10 goats, three cows and 21 chickens in a kraal at her home. She lives with her son, two daughters and four grandchildren, who all rely on her to provide for them. “I’ve worked at a farm and know a lot about farming and I have land here, so I’m using my knowledge and skills to make a living and help myself now,” she says about her circumstances.  Mshumayeli credits her church with empowering her in this regard, through a unique model of helping its community become economically active in a sustainable way. 

“The church donates a pregnant goat to you, that goat gives birth to kids, which grow up to do the same. So it goes until you have a lot of them – it’s the same with the chickens and the cows.” The practice is encouraged throughout the parish and has become part of the culture to empower its members. Mobile phones are also transforming the lives of women farmers by helping them do business efficiently while they also gain skills. Just over a year ago, cell phones were distributed to three cooperative women’s farming groups in different agro-ecological zones in Maseru district, western Lesotho. The Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP) ran the project as part of a pilot programme to see how vulnerable people benefit from cellphones, to disprove arguments against the use of mobile phones for cash transfers, and to prove that illiterate people are able to embrace technology. 

“The phone has transformed the women farmers’ lives completely – they are able to market their produce, access information on prices, and it has made them so confident,” said Gladys Faku, the national chairperson of the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, a network of NGO and civil society groups working with small-scale farmers in East, Central and Southern Africa. 

Evodia Matobo, then 62 when the project was launched, is a small-scale poultry farmer in Lesotho’s rural lowlands, who was stacking plastic containers to feed her chickens. 

Now she talks about feeders, agricultural shows, workshops and experts. In Maseru district, where Matobo lives, the distance between co-operative groups can be up to 200 kilometres – a 16-hour round trip by taxi costing about $13 (R122), with an overnight stay. The evaluation team found that one of the co-operatives, a dairy farm, was planning to visit a Jersey cow farmer in Ladybrand, with a view to buying breeding stock. 

“This is an opportunity that they would have been unlikely to hear about or organise beforehand,” the report noted, and definitely a benefit of improved connectivity. 

In the United States, the government department of agriculture makes special efforts to promote women-owned agricultural businesses. A media report states that trained specialists assist the department in identifying opportunities and referrals to women who own agricultural businesses. “The Department also awards contracts to businesses run by women. In 2007, it awarded $304-million (R2.5-billion) in procurement contracts. For women-owned agricultural businesses to be considered for procurement contracts, they must have an established business with a registered name and agriculture entity type. The establishment of a business status is also needed to apply for any loan or grant applications.” 

Climate change cannot be excluded in any discussion on farming, especially considering that global warming has become a topical issue affecting especially the agriculture sector.  International NGO, Oxfam is working with women farmers in the devastated area of Breede River Valley, in Rawsonville, Western Cape, to help them cope with the changes. Anita Jacoba Armoed (56) is concerned about not having enough food due to the negative effects of ‘mother nature’.

To try and help Armoed’s co-operative cope with the situation, Oxfam’s partner organisation, Women on Farms Project taught the women simple techniques to adapt, by planting crops that survive in cold weather and using mushroom locks for compost for the unseasonably cold weather. 

The organisation aims to help seasonal and unemployed workers increase their income. Their co-operative grows gourmet mushrooms, which they sell to a commercial farmer in Stellenbosch. The women receive a stipend of R500 (US $60).

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has partnered with a number of stakeholders in an ongoing effort to boost women in the agribusiness. People simply need to take the initiative and start by, at least, making contact with the government body to earn more about opportunities for women in agriculture.    

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