WOMEN are of vital importance to rural economies. Rearing poultry and small livestock and growing food crops, they are responsible for some 60% to 80% of food production in developing countries
According to the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2009 policy brief, many farming communities, women are the main custodians of knowledge on crop varieties.
It further states that in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa, women may cultivate as many as 120 different plants alongside the cash crops that are managed by men.
OXFAM states that the rush to invest in farmland in Africa is having an immediate impact on women's land-use options, on their livelihoods, on food availability and the cost of living, and, ultimately, on women's access to land for food production.
Articles 154 and 155 of the COMESA Treaty recognize the importance of ensuring the effective and equal participation of women, men, and youth to achieve sustainable economic and social development in the region.
Zambia like any developing country is struggling in terms of placing women as vital components contributing to the growth of the country.
For this reason a women from all parts of the country gathered for a conference on women in agriculture to learn and share experiences on how their impact could be felt in the contribution to the national economy.
As gender-based inequalities adversely impact women's productivity on-farm and off-farm, turning women into underachievers of competitive advantage in their own enterprises, this meeting was important for strategizing and how they can take advantage of their innovation to contribute to the development of the country.
Speaking during the conference Heifer International Country Director Petronella Halwindi note agriculture was an important driver of economic growth in developing countries, Zambia inclusive.
Ms Halwindi said women make up the majority of the small scale farmers and produce up to 80 per cent of the food consumed locally.
She said women play a critical role in all aspects of agriculture activities in Zambia and were backbone of the rural economy.
"As primary caregivers to families and communities,women provide food,nutrition ,they are the human link between the farm and the table,"she said.
Ms Halwindi bemoaned that the country was faced with numerous obstacles that hinder the full participation of women in development activities.
She noted some of the impediments result from cultural and social practices that obstruct women from exploiting the resources and opportunities for development.
The National Agricultural Policy (NAP) 2012-2030 is to' Improve access to productive resources and services for small scale farmers, especially women and young farmers,in outlying areas to enable them to increase production of staple foods, including fruits and vegetables,for own consumption and the surplus for income generation'.
Ms Halwindi said Heifer International was committed to complimenting Government's efforts in attaining the objectives of the NAP while working to end hunger and poverty through contributing to the growth of the agriculture and livestock sectors in Zambia.
She said women's empowerment and social capital were critical components to establish living incomes in communities.
"In the developing world, rural agriculture is the sustenance of the majority of people, in particular women. We all agree that extreme poverty manifests mostly in rural areas of developing countries where statistics indicate that average ,women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force and contribute 70 per cent labour,"she said.
According to the Central Statistics Office, employment categories only 17.1 per cent of the males were unpaid family workers compared to 52 per cent for females.
"The agriculture,forestry and fisheries sector in Zambia employs 2,872 331 persons which is 52.2 per cent of the total economically active population of 5,499 673. Of this 1,494 703 which represents (53.4%) female and 1,377 628 (51%) male,"she said.
She said the majority of those employed in the respective sectors were located in the rural areas.
Ms Halwindi said women's empowerment was an intentional component of Heifer's work meant at removing barrier's to women economic empowerment by creating access to credit,basic productive resources,technical training and market opportunities.
She cited regional and international protocols such as the Beijing platform of Action,SADC protocol on gender and development ,Malabo declaration and 2030 agenda for sustainable development to name but a few as some which should be translated into action by the government to empower women.
Agriculture Minister Micheal Katambo urged the women to participate in the value chain addition through going beyond production in the field.
He said Government had come up with various initiatives to support the growth of mechanization.
Mr Katambo cited the establishment of the training centre at Golden Valley Agricultural Research (GART) and Construction of a Tractor Assemby Plant.
He said Government had identified key commodity value chains with comparative advantage in the various regions of Zambia for the promotion of value chain development including Soya Beans, Mixed Beans, Cassava and Rice.
Daisy Diangamo 'Daisy Meat' Proprietor advised women farmers to embrace planning before they venture into any king of farming in order to avoid loses.
Ms Diangamo said when she ventures into pig production, she identified the problem as they were already lost more people in the same business.
"Seek information and resources before you get into any business and cease the opportunities that is provided to them,"said Ms Diangamo.
Edith Nawakwi who is a seasoned farmer urged women in agriculture to reclaim their space by doing that which they are capable of.Ms Nawakwi who is also Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD)leader said she learn to be a woman at a tender age to fend for herself and that it was possible for nay women to do anything to sustain themselves.
"As mothers we make the world because we train our children to think that bread is grown in the fridge, therefore if Zambia is poor its because of us women who are not doing enough, "she said.
She said women could be millionaires and capable of ringing the change which Zambia wants through being innovative to ensure sustainability in the country.
Women in Agriculture Chairperson Nkolola Halwindi said women in agriculture should move to move a mechanized way of thinking.
Ms Halwindi, who is also Nkoka Women in Agribusiness Director, says there is need to implement agricultural technologies to move forward and ensure change in the sector.
"There is need for provision of financial support for knowledge exchange and information sharing on gender responsive agricultural technologies to increase awareness, knowledge and participation of women and youth in farm experimentation in order to enhance their role in scaling up sustainable agriculture and land management practices,she said.
Ms Halwindi said there was need to promote microfinance scheme for women to access credits and financial services to build women farmer capacity to access improved farm inputs, access innovative agricultural technological and add value to agricultural produce
The COMESA Free Trade Area agreement would not deliver sustainable economic and social progress unless women are empowered and enabled to navigate the complex procedures involved. This is where the first elements in our toolbox lie for women entrepreneurs - literacy and numeracy, computer skills and legal knowledge.
COMESA noted the capacities of women entrepreneurs in the sub-region need to be scaled up to include understanding of the COMESA Treaty, which recognizes the role of women in business, agriculture and trade, the African Union Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, the Maputo Protocol, or Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Countries in the COMESA region must urgently address these challenges and put in place measures to protect women.
They call for the devising innovative programmes that build entrepreneurial skills among women and put in place innovative ICT programmes that empower rural women most especially in agriculture.
Promoting and up scaling sustainable agricultural, fisheries and aquaculture practices that benefit livelihoods activities of women participation in sustainable agriculture should be prioritized as they are stakeholders in contributing to the country's food basket.