by Ntokozo Ndlovu

Women, Mothers of the Earth

Teach a woman to farm, and she can look after her community

Women are the key to increasing the continent's food security
women farm.jpg

In sub-Saharan Africa, women grow 80% to 90% of food requirements and make up an average 43% of the agricultural labour force in the region, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), quoting the United Nations Report of March 2011.

For this reason, there is a need to invest in female farmers, even though women in agriculture still face challenges such as not being able to access the same agricultural resources as men – which could increase production on women-run farms by between 20% and 30% – and thereby raising total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%.

In turn, this could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12% to 17% or between 100 million and 150 million people. In South Africa’s North West Province, 
agriculture plays an important economic role, contributing about 60% to rural livelihoods. Crop and livestock production contributes substantially to the area's economic 
growth, with 80% of the labour force comprising women.

Even in the face of such challenges, however, there are notable successes by women farmers. Lydia Matladi, formerly a day-care teacher in Limpopo, ventured into farming in 2004, determined to change her family’s fortunes. Today, she is a self-employed successful farmer, owning just over 160 hectares of land in Rossenekal, Limpopo.

Because her beans grew so well, she was able to get a few medium-sized orders and make some money – but still not enough to buy equipment to fast-track the pace of production. “We couldn’t get loans because it was very difficult for small farmers to get funding,” says Matladi. Between 2006 and 2007, a delegation from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) visited their farm and were highly impressed with their progress as black farmers.

They requested that Matladi and her husband put together a year-round farm strategy including rotation and a sales plan, and how they planned to sustain the farm.

“They were happy with our presentation and extended a grant to the tune of R1.5 million to assist us in modernising the farm.

“We built an office, bought equipment, acquired second-hand tractors (to save on money) and installed sprinklers on the farm.

Later, these developments helped us obtain a loan from the Land Bank.

“Our work became mechanised and quickened the pace of production. Quickly, I learnt to drive a tractor and work the land using modern machinery. As part of a programme that assists black emerging farmers, the DAFF put me on a three-year course, where I learnt the ropes of commercial farming. We were taught how to grow different crops and vegetables for certain types of land, pest control etc. It was intense, and one of the most useful programmes I’ve attended since we started farming,” Matladi notes.

On completion in 2010, they decided to try their hand at sunflower farming, but that did not work out as planned. Sunflowers require a lot of moisture, which proved very challenging for Matladi. The crop was very expensive to process, in that they lacked the necessary equipment and subsequently resorted to hiring fellow farmers to process it for them – another costly undertaking. So, they sold their sunflower harvest to farmers with the right equipment for processing. “It is a lesson we learnt the hard way,” she says.

Instead, they resolved to focus on crop and vegetable farming and, as the farm progressed, so did their client base. They were able to hire four permanent staff to help out, and during peak harvest time took on 10 casual workers as extra hands.

“We still do a lot of the administrative work by ourselves, as we believe in being hands-on with all aspects of our farming venture, including working the field with our employees. To this day, I still drive tractors and perform similar tasks as I did when we just started, only now there are more hands on deck.

“We rotate what crops to sow at a given time, depending on season of the year. Our farm mainly supplies a range of vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut, cabbages, tomatoes and beans. We also supply chickens and milk to our community – however, we did not have capacity to deliver wholesale milk orders just yet.”

Now that they are able to produce on a larger scale, they have registered to supply markets in the greater Limpopo area, Pretoria and other parts of Gauteng.

“The sector is dependent on nature (weather fluctuations), heat or too much rain and pests. Cattle can be endangered – if your livestock grazed on toxic pastures, they could die. Harvests, too, can be affected by a number of factors. Besides, you can’t embark on growing farm produce without establishing ready markets first. When people take all these factors into account, they shy away from pursuing commercial farming.

“Many people, women especially, despise menial work and the thought of swapping an office job for life on the land is inconceivable for most. I had to make a decision about what I wanted for my family, and getting my hands dirty was never an issue, and I’ve never been happier since I took up the cudgel.”

 

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