Zimbabwe: Woman farmer on the rise

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Ella Mubayiwa was a beneficiary of the Third Chimurenga, as the 2000 land reform program was known in Zimbabwe. The 60-year-old widow and mother of four had been living abroad, but was encouraged by her mother to return to Zimbabwe and claim land.

Mrs. Mubayiwa says, “I was in England after finishing a degree in business administration … when I heard that the president had authorized the reclamation of our land. We were bussed to different parts of the country and had the pick of the land.”

Mrs. Mubayiwa acquired a 99-year lease on a 35-hectare farm in Nyabira, about 30 kilometres west of the capital, Harare. Hers was one of 38 households resettled in 2000 on a former white-owned farm.

At first, she had to hire tractors because she had no other way to work her land. She began growing tobacco as a cash crop. By 2012, she was able to afford a tractor.

She still faces challenges accessing capital to finance her farm activities. Banks do not accept the 99-year government leases as collateral for loans. The lease gives leaseholders the right to farm state land, but does not grant them ownership of the land.

Mrs. Mubayiwa ventured into raising livestock, but was not successful – her four cattle died. Fortunately, her luck began to turn when she was chosen to be part of a government pilot project to produce maize seed. The project is operated by the government’s Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre, or SIRDC.

Edith Mazhawidza is the president of the Women Farmers Association. She negotiated a partnership between SIRDC and 11 female farmers. The farmers will produce SIRDC-developed maize seed on 200 hectares of plots across Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Mazhawidza says, “[SIRDC] supply seed, fertilizer and technical know-how.” The women are contractually bound to sell their harvest to SIRDC. After deducting the cost of inputs, the women are paid the difference. Growing maize seed is highly rewarding. A tonne of seed fetches up to $660 US, compared to $390 US for a tonne of maize grown for the dinner table.

Mrs. Mubayiwa is producing a promising crop of maize seed on 15 hectares. She says, “I am hopeful that because of the good rains, I’ll get a good harvest. I hope to double the hectarage next year.” She expects to harvest five tonnes per hectare.

Mrs. Mubayiwa employs 10 full-time workers who live on the farm with their families, and hires 15 seasonal labourers. She pays full-time workers $75 US a month and provides them with basic foods.

Her success at producing maize seed has encouraged her to use her house in Harare as collateral for a loan. She no longer wants to commute and wants to build a house on the farm. She also wants to install an irrigation system.

Mrs. Mubayiwa says: “I used to be wary of ceding the title deeds of my house to the bank as security because of the uncertainty of the rains … [but] the rainy season was good this year so I am willing to take a chance. I want to be a full-time farmer.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/100135/zimbabwe-s-women-farmers-on-the-rise