AWIA on women empowerment drive

African Women in Agriculture (AWIA) an organisation working with women is organising an agri-businesss forum to be held in South Africa next week.

NewsDay Chief Business Reporter Mernat Mafirakurewa spoke to AWIA managing director Susanna Makombe on this and other issues affecting women. Below are excerpts.

ND: Who is African Women In Agriculture and how long have you been in operating in Zimbabwe?
SM: New faces new voices: African Women in Agriculture is a Pan-Africa initiative, founded by Graça Machel, whose main objective is to increase the visibility and influence of African women in agriculture, in decision-making spheres.

In almost all African countries, women account for at least 80% of the workforce in agriculture.

These women have no say in the policy formulation and allocation of resources. They have no access to training and have very little access to financial resources.

AWIA is a new programme and has only been operational in Zimbabwe for less than 12 months.

ND: What do you seek to achieve?
SM: Under the thematic concept of “Multiplying Faces Amplifying Voices”, AWIA seeks to provide a developmental experience for women who are already in the agricultural sector.

AWIA also seeks to offer a platform for African women to occupy the centre stage both within the African continent and abroad, with the hope of creating a network of women who can become the faces and voices of a new generation of women leaders in agriculture.

ND: What are some of the programmes you are currently involved in that assist women?
SM: AWIA is a networking and advocacy programme and so the needs will vary from one country to the other.

We have found that our women need training in viable agronomic practices and cropping patterns, financial issues, legal and even health issues.

We are looking to linking them up with other organisations that work with our women in these and other areas so they benefit from their agricultural practices and improved living standards.

ND: What are some of the challenges women have faced and how have you tried to assist?
SM: Their biggest challenge is access to resources, mainly financial resources.

Women also face the challenge of timely delivery of inputs and transport to markets.

Without access to resources such as land and finance and with little access to training, it becomes a challenge for the women to engage in meaningful agro-businesses.

Over 60% of agricultural producers in Zimbabwe are women. For female subsistence farmers, who are also heads of households, poor yields combined with poor access to markets have simply increased their vulnerability to food insecurity.

Therefore, poverty levels have remained higher for women and children. We are still in the process of identifying how best we can intervene in some of these challenges Zimbabwean women face in agriculture today.

ND: How critical is the participation of women in agriculture as a means of alleviating poverty, not only in Zimbabwe, but in other African countries in which you operate?
SM: Women in Africa represent 52% of the total population, contribute approximately 75% of agricultural labour, and produce 60 to 80% of the food consumed in rural households.

These women contribute on average, 50% to gross domestic product, they generate over a third of all household income, mainly through small-scale agro-industry, trading and casual labour.

They also drive the majority of small and medium enterprises now widely recognised as being the engines of economic growth and job creation.

Yet they earn only 10% of African incomes and own just 1% of the continent’s assets, and this despite studies that have shown educating and empowering women is one of the most cost-effective means to accelerate a country’s economic growth.

Until African women have the same opportunities men have, our societies will be destined to perform below their true potential.

The process of multiplying faces of African women and amplifying their voices will result in greater gender parity and equitable participation in decision-making structures that drive sustainable development across the African continent.

ND: You are in the process of organising a high-level agri-business forum to be held in Johannesburg from October 16-19 2011. What do you hope to achieve through such forums?
SM: At the agri-business forum we hope to get exposure for AWIA and its programmes on the continent. Meetings with other international organisations will enable AWIA to get the visibility it deserves.

ND: How different is AWIA from other women groups that deal with agricultural issues in the country and elsewhere?
SM: AWIA is unique in that it has a pan African reach and has the capacity to interact with existing institutions (both public and private) at the critical levels necessary to drive change.

Today there are many local, national and sub-regional organisations that are driving change across the continent by focusing on women’s social and human rights.

However, efforts to empower women economically are often fragmented and have minimal impact. AWIA is unique, as it has the capacity to impact sub-regional and pan-African institutions at the levels necessary to make change, whilst working from the bottom-up to promote grass-root empowerment.

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