Agriculture plays a crucial role in advancing the attainment of food security in any country. And in Zimbabwe, just like many countries, women are a critical force in ensuring agricultural productivity and food security, a fact supported by a policy brief produced in September by Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) titled ‘Gender and Food Security in Zimbabwe’.
The brief which features a review of policy gaps, challenges and priority actions estimates that women provide 70% of the labour in the agricultural sector, and reinforces the fact that women play an active role throughout the agricultural value chain; that is, from production on the family plot, to food preparation as well as distribution within households.
Women farmers and gendered discrimination
Sadly, these women face different challenges as government and other stakeholders are often reluctant to support them. Unlike men, female farmers still face many challenges both socially and economically. According to the brief, roles of women are largely ignored and undervalued. Unlike men, women farmers face numerous inequalities and constraints that are embedded in norms, practices and laws that in turn institutionalise their discrimination. Chioneso Mahwite, a female farmer from Mutauto village in Buhera, said that despite being the majority in the agricultural sector, female farmers are still confronted with issues such as less access to assets, credit services and markets among others.
But why is the government so reluctant to support women farmers? What are some of the hurdles that affect women farmers? And are there any possible solutions to the challenges that affect women farmers?
In an effort to answer the above questions, I’ve come to realise that government is failing to recognise the role that women farmers play in agriculture simply by regarding them as home producers or assistants on the farm, and not as farmers as well as economic agents on their own merit. The government is also slow in dealing with gender disparities in access to production inputs and land, a notion supported by the 2015 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report (ZimVAC).
Because of this, women farmers in Zimbabwe still face hurdles such as cultural discrimination related to ownership of assets and land. Furthermore, they are hardly heard at policy-making level and as a result, they fail to get financial support as well as information on quite a number of other agricultural issues. This lack of support is forcing women to rely on food handouts, especially from NGOs and faith-based organisations. But these handouts, while helping in alleviating hunger, are not the long-term solutions to challenges faced by female farmers and the nation at large.
Capacitation is key
The long-term solution to the nation’s drought problem as well as other hurdles faced by female farmers is simple.
Women farmers need capacitation, not food handouts. They need the capacity to be able to fend for themselves, their families and the nation. Providing women farmers with farming equipment, irrigation technology and support services needed to increase productivity is crucial towards reviving the agriculture sector. Within that, they also require access to knowledge and skills. Women farmers need impartation of knowledge and skills to achieve high crop yields, to know the amount of seed required per hectare of maize, to know the amount of fertiliser and herbicides that are needed for pre and post crop emergency.
Further capacitated with the requisite knowledge and skills, supported by financial resources, women farmers can easily become highly productive.
However, since funding is a problem in many sectors, farmers should be urged to come up with formalised groups so as to effectively leverage funding. Some donor organisations around the country are encouraging people to develop a culture of savings through schemes such as mkando, but there is need for increased support for women farmers to have collective action in the form of groups and unions that makes it easy for financing institutions; for instance, to extend lending.
Agriculture and food security in Zimbabwe is also directly guided by key policies that include the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset); Comprehensive Agriculture Policy Framework (2015-2035) (CAPF); Food and Nutrition Strategy Policy, Irrigation and Mechanisation Policy; National Livestock Policy; Agriculture Gender strategy and Zimbabwe Agricultural Investment Plan (ZAIP). These policy frameworks are bold in and fully pronounce the need to mainstream gender issues in all national action plans to promote all-inclusive growth and development. But sadly, most of these policies have encountered challenges at implementation level resulting in women still unable to equally access and control land, assets and resources.
To close the policy gaps, the government should create awareness of these policies at community and household levels as well as eliminate legal and cultural discrimination related to ownership and access to assets. Improving women’s access, ownership and control over land and production resources has great potential to contribute to greater investments in land, increased agricultural productivity and food security. This can be achieved through reviewing and documenting all gender-related impediments that continue to bar women’s access to key resources at local level, and pushing for reforms at local level and in Parliament.
Main image taken from www.justbusiness.co.zw