Oliver Mtukudzi, Zimbabwean superstar musician has a song that prompts farmers to start their agricultural business when the rains and the sands blend to bring food to the nation. The song comes to mind this time of the year when the farming season is in progress.
Not that Zimbabweans need any reminder to do their farming because the country was known as the breadbasket of the African continent at some point due to farming.
At the helm of that prestige however are women who have been contributing much to the nation’s economic strength.
During the pre and post independent Zimbabwe, women in the rural areas and those working on commercial farms have always formed the backbone of the agriculture industry. It is estimated about 70 percent of Zimbabwean rural women are engaged in daily agricultural activities, from land preparation through to post-harvest activities.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU)’s Gender, HIV and AIDS Women Development program coordinator, Lillian Kujeke-Goliath believes 70% of the union’s members were women although they were not totally empowered.
“Culturally women have been producers but men have been controllers of the produces. Some men’s mindsets are being changed though today but the process is slow. However women are also to blame because they have submissive mindsets,”
Goliath argues that land ownership was one of the biggest challenges for women farmers as they lose much because the land they are tilling is not legally theirs.
“When they divorce, women are sent back to their maiden homes with nothing as the man remains behind with the land, so we still need that to be addressed,”
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women provide the majority of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural muscle and produce up to 80 percent of the regions basic foodstuffs.
The Zimbabwe Agricultural Competitiveness Program, (ZIMACP) regulatory researcher and analyst, Shamiso Nyikayaramba explained that her organisation is trying by all means to educate women farmers of their rights but lack of interest from women is still a challenge.
“Our economy is anchored on farming and 60% of the economy’s strength comes from farming activities. However the equality between male and female farmers is still too far apart although we are thankful that the A1 permits have given women rights,”
She however pointed out that the women themselves are not aware of this law and that the permit does not address the whole nation but the A1 farmers only.
Matebeleland South farmer and ZFU chairperson, Sister Moyo said in the past women did not know that they can survive on agriculture and that it can be a family business but thanks to the ZIMACP, they now have learnt records keeping and can now make decisions on the land they till.
“We have been taught how to package for attractiveness, how to send produce out of the country and have become entrepreneurs. We are learning about competitiveness of our products and this is empowering us a lot,”
Woman and Land Coalition Advocacy Officer, Sharon Chipunza said although the process is slow and women are getting to know their rights, they have secondary rights which are only on paper and they cannot exercise them.
“In some rural areas and homesteads, women are forced to grow seeds like peanuts later in the season which have a low yield and are not provided with fertilizers by their husbands whilst the latter are growing tobacco which gives them a high turnover. At the end of the day they do not harvest anything,”
She added that women have access to land and other natural resources but do not have control of them. She said women organizations should advocate more for constant touch between women farmers and parliamentarians and shun from attending workshops and trainings themselves instead of directly involving the female farmers who need to benefit from the trainings.
Minister of Lands, Douglas Mombeshora pointed that his ministry appreciates what women are doing for survival and for economic development. He added that although there is not enough information on how many women own land, there is need that women’s efforts be recognized.
“As a ministry, we are very much aware of women’s efforts and it is a known factor that they constitute 52% of the nation’s population, therefore they need to be empowered for the development of the country. Men should complement their wives’ efforts and make sure they also become decision makers in the home,”
The Zimbabwe Constitution provides women with the equal human rights and fundamental freedoms as men. Section 17 (1) (c) requires government to take practical measures to ensure that women have access to resources including land, on the basis of equality with men. The National Gender Policy (2013–2017) highlights the importance of women’s involvement in productive labour in the agriculture sector.
ZimAsset (2013) aims to promote women’s participation in “key social, economic and political sectors”, and agriculture is no exception.According to the 2015 Budget Statement presented by Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, the Presidential Inputs Scheme is aimed at supporting 1.6 million households for the 2014 – 2015 summer cropping season targeting maize, small grains, cotton and livestock. $400 000 would be allocated towards cloud seeding in the 2014/2015 season, US$1.72 billion would be provided for overall agriculture production with 2.25 million hectares under crop and support to livestock production.
Pamela Mhlanga, director of Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) argues that there was a significant difference between the female farmer of post independence and the one seen now 35 years later as there is recognition at the policy and legal levels that the female farmer is a legitimate economic actor in the country, and deserves support.
Despite all this progress, Mhlanga said, “the challenge we have seen is that there is a gap between good policy and the reality on the ground. Government needs to do more to support women farmers. Land and inputs are the key productive resources required by women farmers to thrive and women are not at par with men.”
According to ZIMSTATS (2012), men dominate in farm land ownership, with only 19.4% and 36.6% large scale and small scale commercial farms respectively being owned by women. Likewise men dominate in terms of ownership of agricultural inputs. According to the 2010 Agriculture and Livestock Survey men owned 92.9 % and 94.4% of self-propelled and tractor drawn combined harvesters respectively.
“This shows a serious gap in terms of women’s ability to access financing for inputs. Most finance institutions have prohibitive requirements that women cannot meet due to lack of collateral; government interventions in the finance sector to cater for women farmers in particular are necessary. We hope that the soon to be established Women’s Bank will address some of these financial challenges that women farmers are facing,”
According to Mhlanga is still not confident as to what extent are all these incentives going to support women farmers? A strong lobby is required to ensure that women benefit from all these good schemes.
“The inputs scheme should also go towards supporting small grain farming which is dominated by women, so that they move from small scale to a more commercial scale. Likewise there must be a deliberate effort to ensure agriculture extension support consistently targets women farmers to build their skills towards large scale farming. A stronger investment in the woman farmer can turn around the economy, and promote sustainable food security,”
Mhlanga lamented that any allocation of resources towards farmer inputs should consider closing the gender disparity between women and men farmers, and a quota is instituted for women farmers since the government prioritizes the agriculture sector as a key economic pillar.
It is high time women are recognised for their role in the beleaguered Zimbabwean economy