Nelly Bassily | March 3, 2008
Many people in the farming community of Nina, in eastern Namibia, were shocked when Clara Bohitile purchased some unused land to begin farming. Sceptics thought that a woman could only make the run down fields even worse. But Ms. Bohitile was up for the challenge.
Raised in a family that reared cattle and goats, Ms. Bohitile took courses offered by a local agricultural union. With this training, and the expertise of supportive neighbours, she was soon operating a five thousand hectare livestock operation. In 2006, her success was recognized when she was presented with the Emerging Farmer of the Year Award.
Thanks to the process of land reform and new legislation to promote gender equality in many parts of Southern Africa, more women like Ms. Bohitile are able to acquire land and begin farming. One example is the new Namibian law that grants married women the right to own property without the consent and signature of their husbands.
Many black farmers – both men and women – have also benefited from post-apartheid land reform aimed at bringing about more equitable land distribution. For instance, Ms. Bohitile purchased her land through a preferential loan for formerly disadvantaged groups. But Bohitile says she was one of the fortunate ones able to find success despite little government support.
Olga Nghatsane, the winner of South Africa’s Female Farmer of the Year Award, agrees. She says that she did not feel discriminated against as a black woman venturing into commercial farming – but she does feel that the government is not doing enough to support entrepreneurs like her.
Ms. Nghatsane did not receive any government support or training when she invested in a poultry, mushroom, and strawberry farm five years ago. She joined her local farming association, but no one in her area farmed poultry on a commercial level. Eventually, she tracked down extension officers who put her in touch with experienced farmers.
Now that her dream of farming has become a successful reality, Ms. Nghatsane has found that many grants are available to her. She plans to expand her operations in the hope of scaling up to supply large supermarkets.
And while neither Ms. Bohitile nor Ms. Nghatsane believe that their governments do enough to support black women farmers, they are re-investing in the agricultural communities that supported them. Ms. Nghatsane shares her experiences with other emerging farmers in her association. And for her part, Ms. Bohitile is pleased to see that three other women have taken up the challenge of purchasing land in her area.