More young Zimbabwe women embrace agriculture as a source of livelihood

(Xinhua) — Traditionally women in Zimbabwe have played a silent and peripheral role in agriculture, but a new generation of young female farmers is taking up space.

Anastasia Guni, a 33-year-old woman who runs a poultry business in Macheke, about 105 km south-east of the capital Harare, said women have often been the unseen faces of agriculture.

In a telephone interview, Guni said “women have always played a vital role in agriculture, but a silent one, behind the scenes…but things are changing. We are starting to see more and more young female faces in commercial farming, including in positions of influence.”

In Zimbabwe, women from rural areas form the backbone of the agricultural labor force. However, they generally work as subsistence farmers, or as casual wage laborers.

According to the National Gender Profile of Agriculture, rural women constitute about 70 percent of household labor in rural areas.

Guni said while women are a force to be reckoned with in the agriculture sector, they are also burdened with domestic roles such as caring for children, the elderly, and the sick.

In addition to social obstacles and prejudices, women own fewer assets such as land, and few women have the collateral needed to get funding from financial institutions, she said.

“And when you are not a landowner it is almost impossible to access credit facilities,” said Guni.

Twenty-five-year-old Thelma Sandurani is among a growing number of young women helping to redefine what the future of agriculture in Zimbabwe looks like.

Sandurani grows maize, pepper, and ginger at her late grandparents’ five-hectare homestead in Guruve, 150 km north of Harare.

After finishing her degree in History and International Studies, Sandurani decided to follow her passion for agriculture.

Although she had no prior agricultural training, Sandurani said reading and networking with other women equipped her with the knowledge to start farming.

“I learned how to grow pepper when I was networking with other ladies in farming and their experiences inspired me, also on YouTube, googling on the internet, reading other pepper stories from agricultural groups and books,” she said.

Her major challenge is that the land she is using belongs to her late grandparents’ which means other family members have an equal right to use it.

“This means if everyone wants to utilize the land it will be shared accordingly and that will leave me with a small space that I can only plant vegetables,” she said.

Women in Agriculture Union (WAU) National Coordinator Olga Nhari said the economic benefits of farming have enticed more young women to venture into farming and agribusiness value addition.

“The world is evolving. Africa is evolving and right now agriculture that’s where the business is, that’s where the money is, even the young generation are beginning to see it,” she told Xinhua.

Nhari said agriculture and other downstream industries such as food processing and packaging are low hanging fruits that young women can easily reach.

“Agriculture is one field where creativeness doesn’t stop. Opportunities are endless in agriculture. You don’t need to stress about where to start from. It’s one business that you start from where you are, with what you have,” said Nhari.

Apart from growing crops and domesticating animals, more young women are now involved in agribusiness value chains, a development that creates more economic value and more job opportunities, Nhari said.

“We are living in a country where unemployment is high, so the chances of getting a job are very slim, but we have got the land, we have got all the resources we need to make money and the market will never end,” she said.

The Zimbabwean government has over the years taken various initiatives to support youth in agriculture, a development that has seen an unmatched surge of interest in agriculture from young women.

Agriculture is the backbone of the southern African country’s economy and the sector contributes immensely to GDP.

The government sees the inclusion of the youth, particularly young women, in the agricultural sector as key in its efforts to plug the country’s food supply gap and to achieve food security at the household level.

However, women in agriculture still find it difficult to get support from financial institutions and the difficulty in accessing credit facilities means young women have to find their own ways to finance their agricultural projects.

The government has also over the past years prioritized the allocation of land to women and youth as part of its efforts to ensure that they fully participate in economic development.

In an effort to support women entrepreneurs financially, in 2018 the Zimbabwean government set up the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank to specifically provide financial aid to women and youth.

The bank’s overall goal is to help women business owners to overcome the lack of collateral that holds back many potential female entrepreneurs from realizing their dreams by disbursing loans for various income-generating projects.

According to the World Bank, closing the gender gap in agriculture could increase yields on women-run farms by 20-30 percent, a development that could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4 percent. -xinhuanet.com

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