By Joyce Mukucha
As the Zimbabwean economic situation continues to dwindle with unemployment rate increasing, most women in rural areas are becoming creative and innovative as they thrive to uplift their living standards, feed and support their families.
In the 10 provinces of the country, venturing into agricultural activities is one of the captain projects these rural women are focusing on. They are taking part in the agricultural sector not only for the sustenance of their households, but also contributing a pivotal role in the expansion of rural and national thrifts.
According to the World Farmers Organisation, women are the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labour force which rises to 70 percent in some countries. In Africa, 80 percent of the agricultural production comes from small-scale farmers who are mostly women.
Taking a closer look on Zimbabwe, it can be noted that despite the fact that women are committed to yield positive results in the agricultural sector, there are a plethora of challenges which are adversely impacting on their projects which include lack of inclusion.
In line with this, Zimbabwean women who are operating as small scale farmers call upon the Government to empower them so as to efficiently run their projects. They are pleading for distribution of agricultural inputs and finance so that they have access and control of the agricultural benefits.
In the interviews conducted by Spiked Online Media with different women who are into agriculture, they emphasised that Government ought to ensure that there is equal recognition, reward of women in farming and also make efforts to expedite rural electrification for ease of doing business.
Mrs Grace Gatula the Vice chairperson of Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers Association Trust (ZIWFAT) who is working with a group of women in Zvimba District said: “We are still small scale farmers who specialise in growing crops for sale as Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers Association Trust (ZIWFAT) and we appeal to the government that they support us as women so that we continue to be viable in the agricultural sector.
“We have members in all provinces and we are striving to remain gigantic in agriculture because where there is no farmer there is no life. We are being equipped with knowledge in workshops to the extent that no matter how we encounter hardships, the mentorship we receive continues to boost our projects. Government should provide us with solar panels to use at our farms so that we can be able to pump adequate water and operate without obstacles.”
She said women farmers were encountering challenges in as much as small scale farming is concerned. She said accessing fuel was an enormous challenge they were facing and end up relying on blacks markets which sell fuel to them at an expensive price. In the end, the women’s net profits will be very minimal. However, they keep leaping forward with the help of capacity building workshops they receive from organisations such as Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce and other Non-Governmental Organisations.
“The lack of electricity is also one of the key glitches that is affecting our horticulture in the rural areas. We end up using diesel generators to pump water for irrigation purposes. It becomes a challenge again in our operation since we would be relying on black market for these products,” said Mrs Gatula.
Support, recognition and financial inclusion of women in key sectors such as agriculture is vital since it helps women farmers to have access to credit facilities thereby enabling them to contribute meaningfully in the critical sector of the economy.
Another Masvingo based woman who also work withs ZIWFAT, Mrs Cecilia Muchechesi is leading a group of women who grow tomatoes and onions in the province explained that they were also facing a challenge of inadequate water since they irrigate using diesel pumps.
“The main challenge we have pertaining our business is that we use diesel generators for irrigation and we transport it from about 50 kilometres away from our farm. This is very expensive for us so we end up buying in small quantities in black markets at a higher price. We don’t have a choice. We are forced to buy so that our crops survive but this causes us to incur losses.
“All we need is support. We are in the system but we need to be boosted and we have been looking for this support from the Government since 2011 but we haven’t received it yet. Since independence, we tried and even liaised with Minister Olivia Muchena by the time she was the Minister of Women Affairs but she didn’t find anything. We were pleading for 1 hectare for each woman hoping that we would produce for the nation,” said Mrs Muchechesi.
She stressed that farming projects was helping them to support their families but not to the expected and desired level due to these encounters. Sometimes, when they harvest they have to transport their crops to the market for delivery and they become damaged which therefore lead them to incur loses.
Lack of required equipment such as tractors is another huge challenge affecting small scale women farmers in the rural areas. This as a result force them to hire tractors at an expensive price. Failure to afford tractors to till land for them therefore becomes a major problem which affect their production process.
During the 2020-2021 Ease of Doing Business Reform Programme which was launched recently in Harare on the 5th of September 2019, the Zimbabwe Women’s Association for Women in Industry founder and president, Mrs Angie Nyatanga also explained that women were not included yet they were the biggest contributors in terms of business.
“We are aggressively crying for recognition as women, we want to be included, count on us and make us the team members and business partners. We are saying Government must ensure that we are also included in the framework of business reforms, policies and anything that has to do with women. We always talk about financial inclusion as women are supposed to be there but we are not,” said Mrs Nyatanga.
She emphasised that there was lack of information when women go out for different types of businesses since no one was taking the lead to actually tell them what will be on the ground.
“There is also need to change the approach which is top-down approach when it comes to women. We are the biggest contributors to the GDP and in terms of population we are constitute 52 percent and already we are the majority but we seem to be excluded when it comes to crucial business matters that lead to economic development of the nation.,” she said.