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Access to land and output concern rural women

PHILIPPA Chatima (30) is oblivious of the intense heat that hit Mutorashanga and the entire country on November 12, 2015 as she digs holes to plant seed in what experts call zero-tillage, a form of conservation farming taught in rural areas by agriculturalists as a response to climate change.

PHILIPPA Chatima (30) is oblivious of the intense heat that hit Mutorashanga and the entire country on November 12, 2015 as she digs holes to plant seed in what experts call zero-tillage, a form of conservation farming taught in rural areas by agriculturalists as a response to climate change.


Chatima is among many rural-based smallholder women farmers who have to learn to mitigate and adapt to climate change that has not only affected Zimbabwe, but most of sub-Saharan Africa.

Climate change is any long-term significant change in the “average weather” that a given region experiences whereas average weather may include average temperature, precipitation and wind patterns.

Speaking at a workshop organised by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) in Harare recently, meant to educate communal and small-scale farmers on how best to be prepared ahead of the planting season, one Hodhera from Zimbabwe Meteorological Services’ department of climate applications, said there was need to increase understanding and skills on practical implications of climate change and appropriate coping and adaptation strategies for smallholder farmers.

“As the Met Office, we saw it fit to identify and estimate risks of all types — not only crop risks, but also underlying risks that make people and their livelihoods vulnerable to hazards, stresses and shocks, including climate variability and change and be able to assist farmers to do the same.

“We are working with communities to plan for adaptation to climate change and climate variability; to interpret, analyse historical climate data and seasonal climate forecast and communicate with farmers about these in a timely and effective manner to assist them in decision-making. This also includes directly working with smallholder farmers in identifying, developing or adapting appropriate solutions and/or technologies that will help to build the resilience of the farmers,” Hodhera said.

zero tillage

To Chatima, farming is for survival. It is the only activity that she undertakes with utmost strength and concentration. Failure to work the land will mean starvation for her family.

“The rains are around the corner and I just can’t afford to go home and enjoy the shade of the mango tree just because it is hot. I have to dig holes with my children because we don’t have draught power like others. It will be foolhardy for me to wait for the onset of the rains because by then, planting would be inevitable,” she said.

Chatima said she has to do the hard work without the assistance of her husband, who is in Harare, trying to find a job.

“The yield we get from the fields is just enough for food for the family to take us to the next harvest in good seasons. When the season is bad, we will have to supplement our food. My husband has to get a job because we have children to send to school,” she said.

Women constitute 52% of the total population in Zimbabwe and 80% of these women live in the rural areas. They are largely responsible for producing and processing food and provide 70-80% of agriculture labour in Zimbabwe.

Currently Zimbabwe is on record as having the “most progressive instruments” and being a signatory to a number of international treaties, conventions and agreements, but could also be top ping the list for keeping paper tigers.

Women and Land in Zimbabwe legal and advocacy programmes officer, Sharon Chipunza said society has unfortunately been informed by deep patriarchal values driven by belief in supremacy of men over women despite that the constitution seeks to mitigate the adverse effects of the discriminatory tendencies that are prevalent within the communities.

“In our research, we found out that most women farmers face challenges in accessing loans from financial institutions due to lack of collateral. In most cases they do not have documentation to prove that they own pieces of land.

“The land tenure system is such that all communal land in Zimbabwe falls within customary tenure which has a plethora of indigenous and state arrangements that specify what people in communal areas should or should not do. Thus, land is not registered and challenges of inheritance are very high as families squabble over who should inherit what at the death of a plot holder,” Chipunza said.

Chipunza said women are subjected to injustices and discrimination when their spouses die because, culturally, land and natural resource rights are given on lineage basis from one male adult to another.

The few women in rural areas who do well in farming have challenges accessing markets due to poor road networks and lack of critical information concerning their farming business.

“Lack of market intelligence is mostly attributed to lack of market information from institutions like the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA). Despite AMA producing weekly bulletins, these are not accessible to farmers because of AMA’s location. Currently AMA is based in Harare and other provincial towns,” Chipunza said.

The available markets are quite distant and it becomes very expensive to transport the produce to the markets. This normally results in post-harvest losses.

Farmers rely on seed dealers, who are not able, at times, to supply the right seed for the right region. The dealers also acquire seeds and fertilisers late. At times, the hybrid seeds that the farmers acquire are sterile.

This results in women opting to engage in contract farming where they are normally shortchanged by the contractors to sign without them necessarily understanding the terms and conditions

Delayed payments from the Grain Marketing Board have made it difficult for farmers to purchase inputs for the next farming season in time.

Unscrupulous middle men also benefit out of this situation by swindling the farmers of their produce at very low prices or nothing.

Women’s weak financial position worsens their vulnerability because they lack other resources that could be used to advance their farming business [do not own cattle] and normally grow small grains that are not of much economic value.

Climate change has resulted in erratic rains, giving rise to crop failure and perpetual food insecurity since agriculture depends on good rainfall.

Farming seasons are no longer predictable. Women who form the majority of smallholder farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture because of lack of irrigation facilities.

Women farmers raised concern they are being forced to pay money that is not receipted, for instance when they need services from police officers to clear their livestock for sale or when they need veterinary services.

The pricing model for tobacco is also another concern because the same grade of tobacco is being sold at different prices.

Women’s burden of caring for the family has been further increased due to limited access to sustainable energy. Tobacco farmers are causing deforestation and it is becoming a challenge for women to access firewood to use for their daily chores.

They are forced to travel long distances in search of firewood at the same time they are expected to attend to the gardens and fields where family livelihoods’ hinge on.

The pricing system in Zimbabwe is not democratic. Women farmers are only price takers who do not meaningfully participate in coming up with prices for their produce. The value or producer price is announced without prior consultation and one wonders what informs that price. This results in an unbalanced value chain where input prices are not recovered.