HomeNewsRural women farmers facing many challenges

Rural women farmers facing many challenges

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BENENIA Jeche, a 39-year-old single female who lives in the rural areas of Chiendambuya in Headlands, relies on subsistence farming as her only source of income.

Veneranda Langa

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She is a very ambitious woman, and one day hopes that she will be lucky to get a big farm where she will not only grow enough food to feed her family, but will also do farming as a commercial project like the men she often sees running huge farms.

Being a mother of one, she has to fend for her daughter and take her to school using money that she gets from the sale of maize that she farms on her one-and-a-half-hectare plot in Ward 5, Makoni, in Chiendambuya.

“I am a single mother of one – a grown up girl, but although I am a subsistence farmer, I managed to send her up to Advanced Level using the income I get from my subsistence farming projects,” Jeche said.

“I am looking forward to my daughter going up to university level, but I am stuck because as a rural woman farmer I do not have the resources to do bigger farming projects and make more money.”
Jeche said the income that she got from selling produce from her farm was a mere $60 per month.

Apart from maize farming, Jeche also keeps a few livestock, 150 chickens and seven cows.

“I started farming in 2011 and my income is too little because it depends on seasons. When it is not the rainy season I concentrate on gardening projects and I sell the vegetables that I get so that I get a small income as well as food to feed my small family. In 2014 I had a good yield and sold four tonnes of maize to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), but they still have not paid me for the maize. This has disturbed my operations for the new farming season as it would be difficult for me to buy inputs if the GMB has not paid me,” she said.

Jeche’s experiences are not different from other rural women the world over.

To try and avert their continuous suffering, as well as to help them make inroads into making farming a serious income generating business, the Rural Women’s Assembly platform was established in 2009 following a meeting of rural women in Limpopo, South Africa.
Women from nine Sadc countries had converged there to deliberate on issues that affected women across the continent and they mobilised rural women farmers from ward, district and national levels to discuss and promote their social and economic needs and how they could become serious players in agriculture.

This gave birth to Women and Land in Zimbabwe, an organisation that started to mobilise rural women in Makoni, Wedza, Chimanimani, Shurugwi, Nkayi, Gwanda and Gweru.

The organisation, with the assistance of other non-governmental organisations such as the Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST), has helped groom these rural women in order for them to amplify their voices to take part in influencing policies at local, regional and international levels.

After undergoing capacity building with some of these organisations the women were ready to appear at high institutions such as Parliament to speak out on issues that troubled them in their operations in the agricultural sector.

Some members of the Rural Women’s Assembly recently appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture and Irrigation Development chaired by Mbire MP David Butau.

Prisca Chikwee, a rural subsistence farmer from Shurugwi, told the committee that although they were thankful for the Presidential farm input support scheme, they felt it was not enough.

“We feel that agro dealers are not supplying us with enough seed, and their prices are too high and beyond the reach of rural women subsistence farmers. The way they stock their seed is poor and as a result we do not produce good yields. Due to climate change, there is need to promote indigenous seeds so that farmers use seed that suits the new rainfall patterns. Seed suppliers do not seem to realise this,” Chikwee said.

She said rural women farmers also experienced serious shortages of fertilisers and they acquired their seed late resulting in poor yields.

“There is also inadequate supply of dip chemicals for livestock and sometimes when the chemicals are availed, they are not very effective. This leads to loss of draught power.”

Chikwee said government should intervene by taking steps to recognise locally produced seed and increase the number of seed and fertiliser dealers to ensure that supply met demand, as well as ensure that inputs were affordable.

“Rural women farmers are failing to get loans because banks want collateral. We do not have ownership of land and most of the time whenever a family gets land; it is recorded in the name of the husband. We propose that land should be recorded jointly in the names of husband and wife,” she said.

Other women alleged whenever district administrators or headmen parcelled out land, they preferred to allocate it to men, resulting in land being owned by husbands or the first born son.

She said due to that rural women had no money and could not access loans; they could not install irrigation equipment at their farms.

“Food security depends on good rainfall and if there is drought our farming projects fail. Government must build dams at rural areas so that we do not necessarily depend on rain. If we have irrigation equipment we can be able to supply the GMB with a lot of grains continuously. Last year in July we delivered a lot of maize, but we still have not been paid and cannot prepare for the next farming season,” Chikwee said.

Another female farmer Agatha Changunda from Makoni said one of the biggest hurdles that rural women farmers faced was access to markets to sell their produce as well as a very poor road network.

“Farmers have challenges in accessing markets due to poor road networks. The available markets are quite a distance from their communities and it is expensive to transport their produce to the markets. The roads are so bad to the extent even scotch carts or lorries fail to assist us with transporting our produce,” Changunda said.

She said at times their produce was under valued to the extent they made heavy losses.

“Government must improve the road and communication networks. Value addition centres such as the Chiundura Value Addition Centre must be increased. We also need introduction of regulated green markets in the rural areas rather than the roadside markets that female farmers end up using to sell their produce. Market information platforms must also be improved.”

Changunda said as a result of lack of information of where to market their produce, as well as low pricing, they ended up selling their produce using the barter trade system at roadsides at $2 per bucket of maize.

She also alleged there was a lot of corruption at markets to sell their produce, including at big companies.

“We are concerned that we are being forced to pay money that is not receipted for whenever we need the services of the Zimbabwe Republic Police to clear our livestock, or even the services of veterinarians.

“The pricing model of tobacco is another issue of concern because the same grade of tobacco is sold at different prices, depending on whether the seller is a contract farmer or not. Farmers are also forced to pay kick backs to the auction floor workers to get a good grade for their crop,” Changunda said.

Other problems faced by the rural women farmers were said to be an influx of farmers preferring to grow other crops such as tobacco, which threatened food security.

“Tobacco contractors sometimes reduce the price of the same grade of tobacco. Women farmers are also made to sign contracts that they do not understand. Our cattle are not accessing dip tanks yet we pay fees in order for them to be dipped four times per year. They are dipped only once per year and it exposes them to diseases,” she said.
Beria Zengeni from Wedza said there was need to introduce other forms of energy like the use of Tsotso stoves at rural areas to avoid deforestation.

“There is deforestation in the rural areas because people are cutting down trees for firewood to use for cooking, or sale due to high unemployment rates and tobacco curing. Some youths use it for brick moulding to cure bricks. There is need for rural electrification so that people can use electric gadgets such as stoves rather than firewood as it would help reduce cutting down of trees. Government must facilitate the increased usage of solar energy,” Zengeni said.

According to Thandiwe Chidavarove, a representative of women in the agricultural sector, agriculture was the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy and 80% of farmers were women, while 23% of the population were formally employed in the agricultural sector.

“To solve the issues bedevilling women in agriculture, we need representation of women at policy making forums and at farmers ‘unions. We also need representation of women in traditional leadership so that women issues are taken up. If rural women farmers do not have representation, they will continue to be downtrodden. It is expensive for women to afford agricultural inputs. We are not saying they need to get free distribution of inputs, but they need subsidies in terms of fertiliser, seed, and even tillage services,” Chidavarove said.

Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union president Abdul Credit Nyathi said in a quest to support rural women farmers and after noting that 80% of farming was done by women, they established a women’s wing at ZFU.
“We have also said we should have a third ZFU vice-president who is a woman to address the challenges that women farmers are facing,” Nyathi said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. They are doing fine where they are, they should stay put and ask government to assist them on other projects outside natures rainy season. Commercial farming doesn’t come cheap, if you want free inputs how would you manage a commercial farm? They are being mis-informed, commercial farming is a business, not just pride of having land, it has to benefit the country,continent and world at large, not just your children, how much further are these ideologies going to sink the country?

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