Women farmers lack support

WHILE women remain critical for the growth of any nation through agricultural production they continue to face challenges that disincentives their participation.

In Zimbabwe, women constitute 52 percent of the total population and 80 percent of these women live in the rural areas. They are largely responsible for producing and processing food and provide 70-80 percent of agriculture labour in the country, but are also unrecognised.

Apolonia Chonyera, an official for Wadzanai Community Development Trust says most communities in the country are denying women the right to own land.

“Despite the fact that women are the major sources of labour on the land, they, whether married or not, do not own land,” she said, adding that “land ownership is in the name of the man, who in most cases does not work to make it productive,” said Chonyera.

Chipo Gota, a woman farmer from Sirewu Village in Murewa while speaking during an Alternative Business Alliance dialogue at Zaranyika Primary School recently lamented high costs of agricultural inputs.

“My challenge is lack of money to buy seed, fertilisers and chemicals. For instance, I need at least US$30 to buy and transport a bag of fertiliser from Murewa centre, but I don’t have anywhere to get that much” she said, adding that she is even struggling to pay US$20 for her daughter’s fees.
Janet Tanyanyiwa, another woman farmer from Zaranyika Village, mourns lack of markets as well as information from institutions like the Agricultural Marketing Authority that might help her in selling her produce.

“Like most women farmers here, I don’t have access to markets or even information about markets where I can sell my products. As a result, I am forced to sell my products either at Mbare Musika or use the barter trade system at roadsides, and makoronyera (conmen) are taking advantage of me,” she added.
Tanyanyiwa also said most rural women have little knowledge when it comes to issues such as pest and weed control, moisture insufficiency, soil fertility as well as farm credit services, and this is seriously affecting their farming activities.
Lucia Pwisiwa, a rural subsistence farmer from Muchenge Village in Buhera blames agro-dealers for not supplying rural farmers with enough seed.

“Besides not supplying us with adequate seeds, prices of seeds are too high and beyond the reach of many,” she said.
Pwisiwa added that food security depends on good rainfall, but most rural communities do not have community dams, a serious challenge also hampering farming activities.
As for Shumirai Mahwite, a smallholder farmer from Mutauto Village in Buhera, the issue is inadequate supply of dip chemicals for her livestock.

“Hatina mushonga wekudhibhisa mombe dzedu (we don’t have dip chemicals for our livestock). As a result, we are losing our cattle, our draught power,” she said, adding: “what pains us is the fact that we pay fees in order for our cattle to be dipped.”
Lovemore Kanduwa from Chenzara Village says since women are physically not as strong as men, they end up hiring labour to load and off-load agricultural commodities.
This, he adds, increases women’s cost of production and marketing.

Charles Dhewa, Chief Executive Officer of the Knowledge Transfer Africa, says given the male character of formal businesses such as the financing industry, most women do not have access to finance although most tend to have a good repayment record.

“As a result, they end up resorting to micro-finances and zvimbadzo which are more expensive,” he said.
Dhewa added that due to climate change, there is need to promote indigenous seeds that suit the new rainfall patterns.
“Climate change has resulted in erratic rains, giving rise to crop failure. Therefore, there is need to promote indigenous crops such as rapoko and sorghum if rural farmers are to survive harsh climate conditions,” he said.

Gender activist Rutendo Tapiwa says women provide approximately 70 percent of labour in agriculture, but agricultural programmes are rarely designed with their needs in mind.
“Women farmers have no voice in the development of agricultural policies designed to improve their productivity due to a combination of logistical, cultural and economic factors.
“Consequently, they fail to get financial support and information on quite a number of important agricultural issues,” she said.
Tapiwa, therefore, believes spaces should be created to allow women to voice their concerns.

“If the country is to effectively solve all problems bedevilling women farmers in rural areas, there is need for proper representation of women at policy decision making forum, farmers’ union as well as in traditional leadership,” she added.
Advocacy and Gender Officer, Alternative Business Alliance, Value Raviro Dick urges government to support women farmers.
“Women farmers need support; they require farming equipment, community-level water harvesting facilities, improved access to agricultural inputs, services and markets to increase their farming returns,” she said, adding that the government, working with private as well as public sector players, should improve the road infrastructure and communication networks.

Dick also believes there is need to increase value addition centres as well as more regulated green markets in rural areas.
She added: “The government should also put in place plans and strategies to strengthen land rights for rural communities in the country.

“In the absence of secure land tenure, for instance, women farmers will struggle to invest in agricultural activities.”
Researcher in knowledge and information management, Collence Chisita, says the role of women farmers in reducing poverty can simply be enhanced by increasing their knowledge skills and information on markets, prices and key policies affecting farming.

“Knowledge is power. Thus, knowledge and technical skills, supported by financial resources, can stimulate women farmers to improve the long term food security of children and households,” he said.

Costa urged policy decision makers in the Sadc region to move beyond rhetoric and put in place specific budget allocations in favour of the needs of women smallholder farmers.
This process, she says, will involve a proactive listening exercise to determine the key structural constraints faced by women in rural communities.

“A political signal that Sadc member States will meet the 10 percent spending target on agriculture set out by the African Union, with a measurable timeline, would be useful in this regard,” she added.

Costa also said there are a number of other non-fiscal measures that could be usefully deployed to support smallholder farmers.
For example, she notes, tax breaks or direct subsidies can support smallholders to move from the production of staple crops to higher value horticulture or livestock production.
According to a position paper written and presented in Parliament by women farmers representing organisations such as Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, Zimbabwe Farmers Union, Coalition of Women in Agriculture, Women and Land in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau recently, the government should decentralise and efficiently disseminate agriculture information.

“The availability and easy accessibility of vital agricultural information up to grassroots levels is critical for enhancing the role of agriculture in promoting livelihoods to rural farmers”.
Consequently, there is urgent need for government to widely decentralise key organs that are responsible for information dissemination to farmers,” noted the paper.

As women constitute over 50 percent of Zimbabwe’s population and most of them reside in rural areas, there is a strong need to focus on them as well as to address key gender disparities at various levels in the distribution process and access to resources.—Lazarus Sauti

Post a comment