Zimbabwe: Women farmers face many challenges (by Zenzele Ndebele for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

| March 7, 2011

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Nobuhle Fuzwayo raises cattle in Fort Rixon, about 40 kilometres east of Bulawayo. But as a woman, she faces the challenge of being stereotyped by the traditional customs of the Ndebele people. She explains, “Only men are seen as owners of cattle. So even the cows that I have worked hard to rear should belong to my husband. It is hard for people to accept that I can also own cattle.”

Gender stereotyping is not the only challenge Mrs. Fuzwayo and small-scale farmers like her face. Mrs. Judith Maphosa is chairperson of the National Women Farmers. The women felt privileged to receive training. But often, training is not enough. Mrs. Maphosa says, “[Agricultural extension workers] have even taught us food processing, but we cannot implement that because the cost of acquiring machinery is just beyond us.” Mrs. Tholakele Dube is a small-scale farmer in the Kezi area, 50 kilometres north of Bulawayo. She struggles to find draught power to plough her fields. She explains, “A lot of us women don’t have cattle or donkeys to pull our ploughs. The best we can do is to hire tractors, but we don’t have the money. It is costly, especially when they charge for fuel.”

Of all the difficulties women face as farmers, Mrs. Dube said lack of money is the most common. Mrs. Judith Maphosa  says that banks will not loan money to women farmers: “There is no money for us female farmers because we do not own the land that we farm. They only consider cross-border traders. I am sure [that if] we had been traders of some sort, we would be getting this money. At the moment, accessing funds, especially from banks, is impossible.”

One effect of these challenges is that women farmers in Zimbabwe are struggling to adapt their farming practices to the changing weather.

Mrs. Maphosa notes, “The rain … is a great challenge to us. At the beginning of the rainy season, the meteorological department predicted that there would be above normal rainfall here. Their predictions were correct, but we failed to match our plowing and planting with the rain pattern.” Unfortunately, the women could not get the inputs they needed on time. The rain fell in the early part of the season. By the time the women received the inputs, it was too late. Mrs. Maphosa says, “Those who did dry planting will be able to harvest, but most of the women farmers in the rural areas will not harvest much.”