Rural Women and Agriculture in Zimbabwe

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“Challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls”

This was the theme at the half day workshop on the commemoration of the International Day of Rural Women (IDRW) in Harare, Zimbabwe on 15 October 2018. The workshop was initiated by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and hosted jointly with the IFAD-funded Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme; Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement (MLAWCRR); and Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development (MWACSMED).

Sixty participants represented women and men farmers, government ministries and departments, private sector, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), World Bank, media, local and international non-governmental organisations and academia. They discussed issues affecting rural women: food and nutrition security, entrepreneurship and rural women empowerment, climate change, and natural resources management. Participants shared knowledge, experiences and success stories on country programmes, strategies and on-going designs.

Food and Nutrition Security

Farai Ndumuyana, WFP presentation on the summary of the challenges faced by rural women

Gender based inequalities, structural barriers and discriminatory social norms along the food production value chain impede the attainment of food and nutritional security. Although rural women constitute the larger percentage of labour force and contribute to food and nutrition security at the household level, they face a number of challenges.

WFP improved women’s nutrition impact pathway

The promotion of production and consumption of diversified foods and the use of Male Nutrition Champions in nutrition education will be important to achieve improved food and nutrition security for rural women and girls.

Delilah Takawira, FAO, shared success stories providing evidence that the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment can generate significant gains for the agriculture sector and society. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields by 20 to 30 per cent.

The big question is: how to ensure sustainability of food and nutrition security for the rural men and women after the project has ended?

Rural women, climate change and natural resources

Presentation by Delilah Takawira, FAO

Rural women rely on natural resources for firewood, building materials, food and medicines. Rural women and girls have to walk for long distances carrying heavy loads of water and firewood, thereby further constraining the time available to women. This calls for investment in renewable energy.

Melanie Chiponda, WoMin, highlighted that in Uganda rural women are making briquettes from biomass as an alternative to firewood. Could this be replicated in other countries?

With regards to access to land, only 10 per cent of the land under the land reform programme, went to women, falling short of the 20 per cent quota stipulated in Zimbabwe’s Constitution. This is mainly due to cultural practices where land is only accessible to woman through a patrilineal line.

The question that needs to be answered is: how do we fix the customary practices affecting women’s rights to security of tenure and land ownership?

Entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment

Rural women are limited in achieving their full potential in agriculture due to lack of credit. The Zimbabwe Women Microfinance Bank could provide the required loans, although the lack of collateral by women will still need to be addressed.

Other challenges faced by the rural women from Domboshawa include: lack of access markets, business development skills and labour saving technologies. It is not clear whether there is a pathway for enterprises graduation from small to medium and large scale enterprises?

Roselyn Charehwa, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to find mentors for support. Additional incentives include: support for achievement awards to recognise successful rural women entrepreneurs, provide training for start-ups, and promote value addition and certification of rural women products.

The presentation by Anesu Truzumbah, a young farmer entrepreneur, showed that the youth face greater challenges as they lack business planning and entrepreneurial skills as well as, access to capital.

However, the MWACSMED asked critical questions about whether the rural women are really empowered? In addition, Godfrey Chinoera, Zimbabwe Agricultural Development Trust (ZADT), urged participants to present successful projects that could be scaled up to transform the livelihoods for rural women.

Priority needs for rural women

  • Value addition, post-harvest storage and processing techniques

  • Diversification of farming systems

  • Involvement of men and boys

  • Nutrition education

  • Equal access to land and tenure security

  • Access to natural resources including pasture

  • Increased social and rural infrastructure

  • Access to finance and financial literacy training

  • Access to inputs, technology and extension

  • Links to established markets

  • Access to business development skills and information

  • Assistance in forming and strengthening women’s groups