Women in agriculture ‘cannot pour from an empty cup’

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that women comprise 43% of the agricultural labour force. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that women comprise 43% of the agricultural labour force. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Before becoming a woman in agriculture nearly three years ago, I cut my teeth as a journalist, content producer and presenter of a Cape Winelands community radio station.

Community radio is my first love. This is definitely where I found my voice and love for media, especially as a female journalist.

I must admit, it was a struggle to work with little resources and often having to run a one-woman show with a few KC 107.7 volunteers; people we could only incentivise with a small stipend because of limited funding. 

Farmers from across South Africa are featured on the Farmer’s Inside Track podcast. Pictured are Food For Mzansi’s Dawn Noemdoe with urban farmer Sibongile Cele. Photo: Food For Mzansi

There, I often felt like I was pouring from an empty cup. In my experience, working in community media, I realised that this sector is often undervalued. Perhaps, this is also relevant as we celebrate Women’s Day.

We need to look at how we can possibly change this so that more aspiring female journalists and writers can tap into community radio as a stepping stone to other pathways in media and other sectors too.

Today, as an agricultural journalist with Food For Mzansi, my colleagues and I are missioning to showcase the great diversity of this dynamic sector. I am, especially, passionate about shining a light on the achievements and often difficult journeys of under-represented people and communities in agriculture. 

An important aspect of our work at Food For Mzansi, is to try and include female sources in all our articles. We’ve almost organically incorporated this into our content strategy. Plus, we have an almost exclusive female team of journalists.

Pictured from the left are Food For Mzansi journalists Nicole Ludolph, Lucinda Dordley, Noluthando Ngcakani, Dona van Eeden, Sinesipho Tom and Dawn Noemdoe. Photo: Food For Mzansi

Many of our success stories are about black women in agriculture; voices who weren’t previously heard. We realise that despite the significant role they play, they are still often overlooked and undermined. 

Women in agriculture play an essential role in challenging the lack of secure land tenure, development finance and seeking greater leadership support for others to follow in the sector. At Food For Mzansi, these are the people we champion, regardless of whether it is Women’s Day or not.

This sector continues to attract more aspiring female farmers and agriculturalists nurturing diversity and change, and I honestly believe our country’s future farmer is female.

That begs the question of what role agriculture can play in bridging the gender gap to ensure women thrive in the sector. Are the sector leaders living up to their responsibility to encourage equality and promote equity and parity and even self-care of women in the agricultural sector?

This can ultimately only work if we address issues of land tenure, particularly women’s access to land in this country.  

Mbali Nwoko, the CEO of Green Terrace, with Dawn Noemdoe, Food For Mzansi’s editor: audience and engagement. Photo: Food For Mzansi

Women continue to be changemakers in their communities. Women already work in all aspects of agriculture – from journalists and farmers to soil scientists and plant breeders, you name it. They work in training and development and they operate planting and harvesting equipment. 

In South Africa, many of us would not be eating if it was not of the tens of thousands of women in the growing and food processing industries.

But, and it’s a big but, how do we encourage women in agriculture to take the space and time to reflect, replenish, recharge and rejuvenate? How do we encourage self-care for women farmers, agricultural workers, agriculturalists, agripreneurs, mothers and sisters in the agricultural sector? 

When I reflect on the immense strength it takes to be a farmer, I honour the countless women who have inspired me since my journey began at Food For Mzansi.

From Alfreda Mars, a commercial grain and sheep farmer, to vegetable farmer Mbali Nwoko and cotton farmer Susan van der Merwe. More recently, I had the honour of working with Professor Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, director and chair of the Africa Research Universities Alliance Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Pretoria.

These women in agriculture serves as examples or all the Rs listed above: reflect, replenish, recharge and rejuvenate. Each in their own fields of specialities, they are changing mindsets about agriculture and what it takes to shift the soil and build their legacies. 

Perhaps I can add a fifth R-word: repeat. At Food For Mzansi, we encourage women in agriculture to repeat and build on their success. Do not repeat and focus on your mistakes. Repeat and celebrate yourselves as women of power and change.

As we celebrate Women’s Month, I salute all the women who took up the challenge to transform the agricultural sector. The only way we can seriously change the game for women in this space is to become deliberate in our approach to support other women and to encourage self-care. 

PODCAST: Six tips to thrive as a township farmer in Mzansi

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