Role of women in Agriculture- South Africa

In area that has seemingly fallen below the radar, despite transformation of the South African agricultural sector being top of the agenda for policy discussion, is how to include women and the youth in this journey.

So far, the debate around women and the youth has not been well developed; not least due to a general lack of information to allow for policy planning. However, there are some broad anecdotal references we can use to describe the gender disparities that exist.
Overall, the challenges affecting local women in agriculture are similar to those that typically affect women in the developing world. Women in South Africa suffer from legal and cultural constraints in terms of land inheritance, ownership and use.
Broadly, women constitute 60–80% of smallholder farmers, yet make up about 15–20% of landholders in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, women receive less than 10% of available credit and 7% of credit extension services.

Despite this, women continue to play a significant role in the agricultural sector: they accounted for roughly a third of South Africa’s 847 000 new farm jobs in the first quarter of this year, Statistics South Africa indicates. Women’s incomes also make a larger impact on food security: studies have shown that every Rand in income earned by women achieves the same impact as R11 earned by men. As a result, increasing the
effective participation of women in commercial agriculture will significantly increase the potential to address food insecurity.

While this is a notable contribution, it is disheartening that women’s contribution to the share of South Africa’s agricultural labour market has been volatile. Therefore, in the quest to grow the sector and create employment, the most important issue in the next few years will be to explore ways of tackling gender disparities ahead of any new job opportunities created in the sector so we can improve the proportion of women in the agricultural labour market.
That said, progress has been made in the past few years in increasing the number of women in management positions within the sector. Several national  agricultural associations and organisations, such as African Farmers Association (AFASA), Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Fruit South Africa, Grain South Africa’s farmer development programme and Agricultural Business Chamber’s Grain Unit, among others, have
prominent women at the helm.

Extending women’s contribution to management can influence public forums and policy discussion, potentially adding a rich diversity of views that address fundamental gender gaps, and presenting a much-needed gender re-balancing, ensuring some degree of parity in the sector. This desired outcome would, in all likelihood, not materialise if women are left out and valuable contribution in addressing these issues is not adopted. Some of the organisations putting women at the forefront of discussion forums on food security and agriculture include the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation and Absa Bank. This is a story that we have discussed before in Business Day, but is worth repeating because it demonstrates women’s contribution to food production levels – as farmers as well. We have participated in a panel session under the theme Towards a Food Secure 2030, organised by the aforementioned organisations at the University of Fort Hare’s Campus in Alice for two consecutive years now.

In both years,we’ve sought to diversify the panel that included private sector analysts and academics, with the addition of a black female farmer, Sibuyiselwe Sontundu. Sontundu is a successful young female farmer from Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape. She tells the story of how she got involved in the agricultural sector at an early age, in 1999, with good support from the government and organised agricultural groups. Over the years, she upskilled herself and diversified her farming business. She produces grains and livestock and supplies local businesses. Sontundu’s business might not be big when viewed at a national scale, but it certainly makes a big difference in the local rural economy of Mqanduli. She is an inspiration to many young women, including those in the audience listening attentively to her story. The enthusiasm was clear from the number of questions that followed our discussion session.

We are sure there are many more Sontundus out there, but more women will reach their full potential if they receive proper support from both the government and the private sector, and if they are more broadly represented through management and policy positions in key institutions.

Wandile Sihlobo is head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz). Dr Tinashe Kapuya is an agribusiness trade specialist. This article forms part of a series of Panel Discussions on Land, Agriculture and Food Security in South Africa, hosted by Absa Bank, The Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation and The University of Fort Hare for the second year, starting in 2017. These panel discussions were aligned to the National Development Plan and formed part of the celebrations commemorating the life and legacy of Oliver Reginald Tambo.


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