“Women on farms work tirelessly to ensure food security for their families and the nation,” said Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development. “Thank you to each one of those women who played their part in this fight. Because of your effort during the Covid-19 pandemic, many lives have been saved.”
Didiza was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s International Women’s Day celebrations hosted by Corteva Agriscience and the GIBS Business School in Johannesburg. The two-hour, virtual event was live-streamed on Food For Mzansi.
Participants deliberated on policy and practice perspectives that would help construct an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in agriculture in South Africa, and over the continent of Africa as a whole.
In her address, Didiza also reflected on the fact that, among others, infrastructure development and finance remain critical to support women in agriculture. Women reportedly make up about 60% to 80% of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, they only make up about 15% to 20% of landholders.
Women and climate change
The minister also acknowledged challenges that farmers and agripreneurs face due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown regulations as well as climate change.
“Our country at this moment experiences heavy, destructive rains in some parts, and many other regions battling with drought. Climate change is not an issue for discussion in the boardrooms, it as a daily occurrence that we live with.”
Meanwhile Miranda Hosking, executive director of social education at GIBS, said, “Agriculture remains a key sector in the economy. There is a lot of hope and belief placed on agriculture to contribute to economic development.”
This, Hosking believes, places a great need on South Africa to invest in women’s participation as agricultural entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs bear the burden and the responsibly to contribute to economic development and create jobs, even though they take this responsibility on with a smile and with gratitude that they are contributing to job creation.
Regional president of Corteva Agriscience in Africa and the Middle East Venkata Subbarao Kolli also participated.
He said, “Women play a critical role in agriculture, providing 43% of food production across Africa while only making up 25% of the agriculture community. Another key role that women play in agriculture is using their businesses to uplift their communities.”
Julia Murithi, an entrepreneur and Kenyan farmer, noted that women farmers in Kenya have organised in small groups to support each other and other women. These groups already make up 2 000 women, and with Corteva’s help, they were able to increase learning opportunities for these women.
“We need to let them believe they can, encourage them, give them business knowledge in the areas they want to enter,” said Murithi. “We need to help them to identify their source of capital and teach value addition on their products.”
“One way for Corteva to support famers is through technology and innovation,” said Tony Esmeraldo, business leader for Southern Africa at Corteva.
“Soil, product placement and digital measurements of yield are all important aspects to solve with technology.”
“The biggest factor here is water,” added Kolli. “We need to breed drought-resistant crops and finance stress-resistant breeding programmes to produce seeds that yield full potential even under stressed conditions.”
Available technology for these problems might not be accessible for those in Africa, like gene editing, but we mostly need selective breeding knowledge, making our crops more relevant to local conditions and stresses.
Another way that technology and innovation can help is in creating platforms for communities to engage with different stakeholders in agriculture, where farmers can find each other and offer support and services to neighbouring farmers.
“In terms of getting access to market, technology makes it easier,” said Esmeraldo. “We need to put this in the hand of women farmers to help them make their farms more profitable.”
Greater support for women
Also participating was Mbali Nwoko, CEO of Green Terrace and podcaster. “Entrepreneurship does not have to be a lonely journey,” she said. “I don’t think you can go far without supportive relationships.”
Nwoko would like to see policy that advances technology and access to seeds, as well as better access to funding for entrepreneurs. She also highlighted the need for different funding models and policy that enable access to funding.
“Women leaders must become change agents and (we must) utilise our role to mobilise women into participation into the policy space, and legislation,” said Didiza.
“For us to be able to respond to what women need, we need input from their lived experience.
“We need to be deliberate in our approach in supporting women,” said Mbali in her powerful closing remark.
“As women we need to learn and be deliberate in supporting women. Women in leadership positions must fight for a female incumbent to enter open positions, recommend other women, be deliberate in supporting women in agriculture. Let us be deliberate in bringing other women to the fore and giving them opportunities.”