/ 8 August 2022

Promote agriculture so that more women are landholders and not labourers

Women In Agriculture

As we take the time to celebrate and reflect on our roles, successes and dreams during this Women’s Month, we must use this time to take action against the overwhelming and crippling gender inequality in the agriculture sector.

It remains a truism that women are good enough to toil the land but not good enough to own it. Every day, women in agriculture face the insulting perception that farming is a man’s job. Every day, they struggle to overcome the barriers of patriarchy, where tradition, culture and ignorance prevent them from having access to land to not only feed their families but to create thriving agri-businesses that will provide food security, economic growth and transform the farming industry.

It remains one of the great anomalies of agriculture that 60% to 80% of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are women yet only 15% to 20% of them are landholders. Almost half of the world’s agricultural workforce is female. In their exploratory study on Women and Gender in South African Agriculture in 2019, the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa found that an average of 20% of farmers who owned farms were women. The majority of full-time employees were men (66%) while 52% part-time or seasonal employees were women. 

The same found that 77% of respondents believed that more women were needed in agriculture, specifically in senior positions. Statistics South Africa said in March this year that a woman is more likely to be unemployed than a man in a labour market that favours males, with the unemployment rate of black women a staggering 41%. 

Overcoming gender inequality is also about overcoming economic inequality. Gender inclusion is also economic inclusion. We must break down the barriers that prevent women from entering the agriculture sector. Given the tools, training, access and resources, women have been shown to be more productive farmers.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation conference was told in 2016: “We know that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men. As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1 000 days of a child’s life.”

Agriculture cannot only be about feeding a family through subsistence farming but also about equipping them with skills and resources, ensuring access to markets and land. We must encourage agri-entrepreneurs who will have the capacity to build financially sustainable businesses that will continue to develop and grow.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recognised this in his 2022 State of the Nation address, when he announced that the government would expand its already extensive agriculture programmes to include supporting small-scale farmers and assisting with their integration into value chains. There is so much we can and must do. Providing tools and implements, land, access to technology, training programmes, information sharing, financial support, logistics and transport, cold storage and packaging.

Mentoring by successful female farmers, such as Nomsa Ngwenya of NTL Baraka Eco Farming in Limpopo, is vital. She started with cucumbers and tomatoes in 2002, branched into producing the Moringa superfood plant and built an organic-certified, multi-million rand business with clients across the world. 

Kagiso Trust came into contact with NTL Baraka Eco Farming through its Tyala Impact Fund. The fund, started in February 2020, seeks to bridge the gap for new era farmers to commercial farming through access to appropriate finance and technical support, which includes technology and markets. We follow a multi-stakeholder approach to unlock critical resources from the public and private sector for the benefit and success of black agripreneurs.

Nomsa has retired but she continues to share what she learned. Her daughter is now running the farm, ensuring that knowledge and skills are not lost. Her free Agri-Preneurs Empowerment Seminars cover market access, rural development, poverty alleviation, food security, transformation, job creation and skills development; contributing to sector growth and transformation.

Finding appropriate holistic solutions has proven to be one of the major challenges faced by farmers. In response Kagiso Trust established a holistic solution for emerging black farmers through collaboration with partners, providing solutions on essentials including funding, market access and technical support. The goal is to have this replicated across the country.

We have collaborated with Spar and FNB to consolidate resources for farmers at the Spar Mopani Rural Hub in Limpopo, which is supplied with high value crops by NTL Baraka Eco Farming, among others. The Rural Hub Initiative allows for the identification and development of local small-scale farmers to become emerging commercial farmers, so they can produce and supply safe produce to Fresh Assembly Points for local and centralised distribution.

In line with Kagiso Trust’s holistic solution, the Trust, FNB and Spar provide finance focusing on infrastructure development and production input, grant funding for business and technical costs, and provide market access, respectively. It is amazing what can be done when we all work together.

The opportunities for women in agriculture are vast. It is not only in primary agriculture, as farmers or labourers, but in accessing the upstream and downstream agriculture value chain opportunities. It is in intentionally providing women with these opportunities and support structures that the agriculture sector will finally reap the benefits of transformation. 

Gender inequality is a real barrier. Farming is not a “man’s job”. It never has been. It is up to all of us to transform agriculture, to ensure that, as former US president Barack Obama once said: “Communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, are more peaceful, are more prosperous and develop faster.”

Mankodi Moitseis the chief executive of Kagiso Trust and serves as co-chair at the Kagiso Shanduka Trust.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.