Women farmers in South Africa must fight past multiple gender-specific obstacles before even getting to plough a field or sow a seed. This is the view of Stellenbosch University political analyst Professor Amanda Gouws as the country commemorates Women’s Day.
Gouws, who also holds the SARChI chair in gender politics, tells Food For Mzansi that, above all, land ownership remains one of the biggest issues facing South African women farmers.
She says, “African women have always been the ones to work the land, but rarely been the ones to own it. They are [typically] our subsistence farmers that ensure food security for families.”
Across the country continent, many women do not have independent land rights, adds the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS). They struggle to access land, and many are at the risk of land dispossession.
According to their last land report, 92% of land are owned by South Africans. Of this, men own more than 26 million hectares while women only own about 4.8 million hectares.
Furthermore, a 2020 report by Stats SA suggests that there are just more than 8 000 women landowners who farm for themselves. This, compared to more than 31 00 male farmers who also own land.
‘Give women access to financing’
Gouws believes, however, that in recent years there was great efforts to improve the status of women in agriculture. However, women living under customary law often struggle to access and own land.
“There are some women agricultural entrepreneurs that are equal competitors to men when it comes to growing grains, fruit and vegetables and exporting them. [That being said,] there should be more access to loans for women farmers,” she says.
As the country celebrates Women’s Day, Western Cape grain and sheep farmer Alfreda Mars says women still face some of the age-old gender challenges in 2021. This, despite countless promises from government to break down some of the entry barriers for up-and-coming farmers, particularly young people and women.
“The thinking of agriculture as a man’s job still persists. Many people had doubts about me. They were sceptical that I would make a success in farming,” Mars tells Food For Mzansi.
In grain production, there are still very few women farmers despite Mars’ best efforts to change the perception that agriculture was “a boy’s club”.
She adds, “Lack of access to land, funding, technology and marketing opportunities are [just] some of the challenges women face in agriculture.”
Meanwhile, a recent global study found that, despite suggestions to the contrary, gender really matters in agriculture. In their research, Drs Marianna Khacaturyan and Wesley Peterson asserts that gender inequality slows development.
They say, “Policy-makers and international organisations cannot ignore the interests of women agriculturalists if they are to have an impact on household and national food security.
“Women are ten times more likely than men to invest their income in the health, education, and nutrition of their children with long-term effects on human capital formation and economic security.”
In analysing gender roles and their impacts on agriculture, the researchers found that no single policy initiative will be effective in all settings.
“But simply focusing on support for men’s contributions to agricultural production will clearly leave major sources of agricultural output flowing form women’s labour untouched. Reducing gender inequality is a critical element in promoting agricultural development in low-income countries.”