The Herald (Harare)

9 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Women's Role in Farming Vital

opinion

Zimbabwe has started preparing for the onset of the rains, signaling the start of the farming season which ends next March. As I write, preparations are at an advanced stage with both small and large-scale farmers making final preparations.

They already know which crops would need more attention and what they hope to harvest, all things equal. It's during this time, that you realise that the family unit is at its most effective and works as a team as each person regardless of gender plays a pivotal role in ensuring a good yield for the family.

However, one indisputable fact is that for a long time, women have been playing a crucial role in farming activities either as farm labourers or at household level.

This role has not been quite heralded: they are actively involved from the preliminary planning stages, right up to harvesting.

For some, that is also the period when they have to say goodbye to urban life and rejoin their in-laws and other relatives in the village to ensure a smooth running farming season and only rejoin the husband some months later.

If anything, for a number of farming activities that take place throughout the country and across the region, it has been noted that women are actively involved.

Their contribution is crucial not only in Zimbabwe alone, but across Africa and other continents that rely on farming as a source of livelihood.

It is estimated that African women farmers produce 20 percent or more than men, with only one percent of the land and seven percent of extension services.

Faced with such glaring figures, one cannot doubt that given the necessary support and resources, women can actually contribute a lot towards the GDP with farming than what is currently happening.

And the question that has often been on the mouths of many NGOs and civic society is, "How much could global agricultural activities produce if women had the same access of support and services with men?"

A cursory look on the subject shows that women's contribution to agriculture cuts across regions and has actually resulted in new innovations and developments that are crucial to the sustainability of agriculture in a lot of African countries.

For instance in post-genocide Rwanda, women have made major contributions to the economic recovery by supporting and spearheading a number of agricultural activities to support their families.

This was as a result of changes in policy that allowed land ownership by women, who are now heading households in that country. It also followed from women seeking knowledge in the growing of coffee, available from agricultural extensions workers.

The same feat has been repeated in Namibia, where according to Shirley Malcom, women moved in and saved a palm tree conservation project that was failing and was said to be a write-off.

It is said that palm trees were beginning to die months after women were asked to cut production of baskets made from palm leaves.

However, it was later discovered that the palm trees were dying not because women were using more palm trees in weaving baskets, but because their care had been transferred to men, who didn't have time to care for the trees.

Another is that of Malawi which for the last few years has become the breadbasket of the region when it comes to agricultural production.

Malawi's success in agricultural production can be attributed to a number of factors chiefly among them the availability of subsided agricultural inputs to the farmers and the input of female farmers, whose involvement to farming dates back to more than 100 years.

Looking closely at all these women who have made a phenomenal contribution to agriculture, in their respective countries you cannot help, but feel a sense of pride in what they do and are willing to go an extra mile to achieve more.

It is also clear that they are also driven by passion to achieve more because they do have a sense of ownership and are equal partners of whatever yields and subsequent profits they get at the end of each farming season.

But how many of our women in Zimbabwe feel that way, or how many of our women are in full control of the land they will be tilling a few weeks from now once the rains start pounding the country from all directions?

Better still, how many women get the pay cheque of the tobacco or cotton once it has been sold, regardless of the fact they would have been actively involved in the production of the crop until it is loaded into the lorry and is heading for the auction floors?

Hardly a year passes without reading a tragic story of women committing suicide on realising that proceeds from the sale of their crops were squandered and probably used to marry a second wife, leaving nothing for the wife and the children who laboured.

Indeed as farmers prepare for the onset of the rains, many tragic scripts are also being written, whose tragic ending would be unveiled once the farming season is over and the family is expecting rewards for the season they toiled endlessly to get a bumper harvest.

Women's contribution should not just end by tilling the land and ensuring that the crops have been harvested well, but they should also get their dues when the crops have been sold.

In the same way that they contributed to the well-being of the crop, they should also be consulted and partake in festivities that come along with reaping high yields.

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