It is critical to encourage partnership between government and the private sector to empower women-owned farming cooperatives and also to promote the inclusion of women in leadership roles in the agricultural sector, writes National Agricultural Marketing Council agricultural economist Lucius Phaleng.
Historically, women have played a pivotal role in the growth and long-term development of South Africa and have often been considered the backbone of a developed agricultural sector. South Africa’s agrarian economy developed with women working hand in hand with men on farms.
With economic development and the creation of new jobs, there came increasing migration of men from rural areas to the cities. This gave women the advantage to take over the role as farmers, entrepreneurs and labourers, and as major drivers for growth in the agricultural sector.
Women reportedly make up about 60% to 80% of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, but they only make up about 15% to 20% of land holders.
They play a critical and potentially transformative role in agricultural growth in developing countries, but they face persistent obstacles and economic constraints, limiting further inclusion in agriculture. The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) measures the empowerment, agency and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector in an effort to identify ways to overcome those obstacles and constraints.
Women underrepresented in senior agri jobs
Small-scale and commercial agriculture in South Africa is now receiving more attention that will make it more inclusive for female farmers, especially women from rural and poor communities. The value of agricultural production increased by 15.9% to R332 953 million in 2020 and this makes the sector a significant provider of employment.
And yet women, in particular those in rural communities, are not well presented in the agricultural value chain. Additionally, the share of women at all levels, including middle and senior-level managerial positions in the agricultural sector, is comparatively insignificant.
There is a need to undertake strategic initiatives that seek and develop talent in line with agricultural values and culture. Firstly, encourage initiatives that focus on specific policies relating to safety and security of women, creating a work culture that is conducive and supportive, as well as provision of infrastructure that offers equal benefits to men and women.
Secondly, bring in a resilient and permanent change in mindset regarding diversity and inclusion through training on inclusivity in the agricultural value chain to ensure equal participation. It is critical to encourage partnership between government and the private sector to empower women-owned farming cooperatives and also to promote the inclusion of women in leadership roles in the agricultural sector.
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