Women pushing to bridge gender gaps in agri sector

Food For Mzansi Power Talk addresses gender inequality in agriculture

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“Do we really know how many women make up the agriculture labour market in South Africa? What share of South Africa’s, or the world’s, food is produced by women? And why are women still facing an enormous amount of discrimination in the local market?”

These were the opening questions set out by Food For Mzansi Editor Dawn Noemdoe to panellists at the second Food For Mzansi Power Talk held at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape.

The all-female panel unpacked gender inequality, discrimination in the agricultural sector and the importance of women in agriculture to create social cohesion. The event was held in partnership with the leading agricultural company VKB Group and Stellenbosch University.

Noemdoe was joined by leading farmers Alfreda Mars, CEO of Middlepos Farm, Jacqueline Goliath, owner of De Fynne Nursery and Preline Swart, CEO of Swart Boerdery. Also participating was prof. Amanda Gouws, professor of political science and the SARChl Chair in Gender Politics, and Maritjie Cornelissen, Acting Deputy Director of Quality and Transformation Management at the Department of Agriculture for the Western Cape Government.

To kick off the evening’s discussion, Gouws delved into the gender gaps plaguing the agricultural sector. She pointed out that small-scale and subsistence female farmers exceeded the number of males in the sector.

According to Gouws there are 954 000 women in contrast to 315 000 men in this regard. However, despite their numbers, these women are still struggling to get access to extension services, credit and tenure insecurity.

“Of the 200 million tons of the agricultural produce being produced in Sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of that is produced by small and subsistence farmers. Women make up over 65% of them. In the South African case, women who actually work in male households do the farming.”

Reflecting on these sentiments, Mars said she can relate to the credit matter as a commercial farmer. “Right now, I do not qualify for funding because you must own the property you farm on. It’s a big problem to take your farming business further.” She also said that she struggles getting access to extention services as a woman farming alone.

Award-winning farmer Goliath echoed the inconvenience that she and other women in the industry have to put up with.

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She added that not owning the land on which she farms not only creates a financial obstacle, it also creates insecurity around the business’s future.

“We also have a farm that was given to us by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. The farm not being in your name means that you can’t go to the bank or institutions to lend money. That is both an issue and an insecurity, because when people want to work with you, they want the security that you will be in business for a long time.”

Despite the challenges women face in the agricultural sector in South Africa the overall sentiment from the farmers on the panel is that farming is still a viable options for their children. Noemdoe asserted that, although we acknowledge that we still have some ways to go to empower women in agriculture, Food For Mzansi strongly believes the future of farming is female.

  • Keep an eye out for the next event in the Food For Mzansi Power Talks series.
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