South Africa: Women farmers succeed in spite of challenges (by Ndumiso Mlilo, for Farm Radio Weekly in South Africa)

| March 5, 2012

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In 1989, Linda Nghatsane abandoned her work as a lecturer at a nursing college to pursue a career in farming. Ms. Nghatsane grew up in a farming environment. Her husband works as an agricultural extension officer. And now she’s a successful farmer in Mbombela, in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

Her story is likely to inspire other women in part because she started with only a backyard vegetable garden. Now she raises poultry and grows vegetables on a 10-hectare plot. Ms. Nghatsane sells her produce in Pretoria market and in Johannesburg. She helps support her family and dreams of becoming a commercial farmer.

When Mrs. Nghatsane bought her land, there was no water, electricity, or infrastructure. So she drilled a borehole, built chicken houses, and fenced the farm, with assistance from the Department of Agriculture and Land Administration.

Mrs. Nghatsane says she has succeeded because she is passionate about farming. She adds, “I encourage my fellow women to persevere, conquer fear, work hard and engage in farming.”

But being a woman farmer brings challenges. Mrs. Nghatsane explains that women farmers work more hours than men. There are several reasons for this, but in part it is because women do farming activities like weeding that are inherently time-consuming. Mrs. Nghatsane says that, when farm businesses are profitable, men are highly involved and tend to dominate decision-making. But when things are not going well, men migrate to cities and look for other work.

Despite these challenges, Mrs. Nghatsane has progressed from growing vegetables in a backyard to working a 10-hectare plot. In 2008, she won the award for National Female Farmer of the Year.
When she started farming, Mrs. Nghatsane made around R300 a week, or about $40 US. Now she raises 20,000 chickens and makes about R5000 per week, or more than $650 U.S.
Mrs. Nghatsane gives back to her community by conducting trainings on growing vegetables and raising poultry. She also cares for and supports orphans and vulnerable children.

Florence Mlimi is another woman who also persevered against the odds to become a respected farmer. She now owns more than 9,000 chickens and 40 cattle. Her 28-hectare farm is in South Africa’s Mpumulanga province, east of Johannesburg.

Ms. Mlimi learned vegetable farming and farm business skills at Johannesburg’s Early Bird Training Center. She now raises livestock and grows a variety of vegetables, plus strawberries and oyster mushrooms.

Trainings and interaction with other farmers have helped Ms. Mlimi become a better farmer. She says, “I started farming in 1997, and I would like to continue learning farming techniques so that in future I can diversify into other crops.”

But marketing remains a major challenge, as it is for many farmers in her community. She does not have a regular market for her goods, so sells her cattle to individuals who hold parties, weddings, and funerals. She sells her vegetables in regional markets where there is a lot of competition.

Ms. Mlimi is a member of the National Farmers Association in South Africa. The organization helps her find markets for her produce.

Ms. Mlimi feels that farming is difficult and requires hard work. She describes her road to success, saying, “I saved a little and started small and grew bit by bit. I love what I do. And that is what makes me successful.”