Women in the remote district of Guruve are defying odds to stamp their authority on the previously male-dominated agriculture industry.
The first 10 years after the women were allocated plots in the Tengenenge area were stressful. Lack of expertise, hyperinflation and absence of financial support from government made them “grass farmers” - as they hardly reaped any meaningful harvests.
“We tried cotton farming on our A2 plots with the hope of making money after selling it to Cottco and Grafax. Their inputs loan schemes impoverished us instead of benefitting us. The chemicals and fertilisers we used cost us three times more than the profits we realised – so we abandoned growing it,” said Tsitsi Moyo (48), the Councillor for Ward 1, now home to Horse-shoe Farm, a successful enterprise run by a consortium of 40 women.
“We are happy that Horse-shoe Farm is frequented by many people who come to view and buy the products at Tengenenge Arts Centre run by renowned sculptor Dominic Benhura. They also buy our agricultural products and business is good,” Moyo said.
In the 2009-10 agricultural season, the women decided to grow tobacco, maize and beans rather than cotton.
“Tobacco farming is very lucrative and has been fetching good prices on the market over the last four years. Using proceeds from tobacco sales, we started poultry and dairy farming and we are doing very well,” said Sheila Muronzi, a member of the Gurure Poultry and Dairy Project initiated by the women of Horse-shoe Farm.
The women kicked off their poultry project with 300 day-old chicks shared between two groups of 30 members each. With assistance from Agricultural Extension Services officers, all the chickens matured and were sold for $8 each.
“For a long time we were taught to be mere farm labourers for our male counterparts. Little did we know that farming is one way of empowering ourselves. Most of us are now able to buy food for our children, clothe and send them to school without begging men to do it for us,” said Gamuchirai Wachenuka of Gurure Poultry project.
At the dairy project, the women are keeping Jersey and Friesland cows. “We were taught to look after the grazing land and pastures. We make silage and also mix maize residue with urea to produce a nutritious mixture for our cows,” said Chengetai Munemo.
Each Friesland cow produces 20 litres of milk a day, while a Jersey produces 15 litres when well fed. “A Chinese investor has promised to join our group on a win-win basis where he will be packaging milk and processing it to make cheese and ice-cream. He has since brought a machine for processing cheese and hopefully by January we will be processing it full-throttle,” added Moyo.
The women have formed a mothers’ support group called “Cast your tears”, a brainchild of Tsitsi Moyo, which looks after orphans and disadvantaged children in the community.
“Using our social fund we bought uniforms and stationery for 30 orphans at Horse-shoe Secondary School. We are also providing food to widows and people living with disabilities,” Moyo said. She added that they were teaching other women at Mangondo and Penrose Farms to take up farming to improve their livelihoods. Recently, chrome was discovered near the farm. Chinese companies including Sanhe, Lebanmon and Kerai Investments were mining chrome and only stopped operations after the government banned the export of unprocessed chrome.
“We also need a stake in the mining activities. As women we have proved that we put our resources to good use for the advancement of our communities. We will employ youths in our business ventures to reduce poverty, unemployment and crime rate,” Moyo added.