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Small scale agriculture in South Africa is getting a face lift that will make it more inclusive of female farmers, especially women from rural and poor communities.

The value of agricultural production increased by 4.7% and was estimated at  R281,370 million in 2017. This makes agriculture a significant provider of employment.

And yet, women, in particular those in rural areas, are underrepresented in the sector.

While women reportedly make up about 60% to 80% of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, they only make up about 15% to 20% of landholders.

Now, the Vodacom Foundation, UN Women, and South African Women in Farming (SAWIF) have teamed up to launch the Women Farmers Programme all across South Africa, as a way to make agriculture more accessible and profitable for women.

The initiative was first launched in 2018, and it saw over 600 female smallholder farmers in rural areas of Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces trained in digital literacy. This includes teaching them how to use apps to connect to potential customers.

Speaking at a press conference held last week to announce the initiative, Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer of corporate affairs for the Vodacom group, said: “We are committed to empowering women to reach their full potential.”

“With this initiative we will be able to support female farmers in staking their claim in the agriculture sector through the use of technology, which in turn can help to reduce poverty, ensure food security, and boost the industry’s contribution to the economy,” she continued.

Making women active participants of the agricultural economy has benefits that extend way beyond their own livelihoods — helping to improve the lives of their families and communities too.

With agriculture also being a booming industry in South Africa — contributing nearly 850,000 new farm jobs in the country in the first quarter of 2018 — investing in female farmers also has the potential to unlock enormous economic growth, according to UN Women.

“We know that globally women make up the majority of women small-holder farmers and if women had access to the same resources as men, they would increase their output by 30%,” said Anne Githuku-Shongwe, from UN Women South Africa, at the press conference.

She added that gender inequality in the agricultural sector is effectively depriving the industry of the benefits that come from women participating equally — including food security, job creation, and income generation.

Challenges faced by women include legal and cultural restrictions around land inheritance and ownership.

“If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase the yields of farms by 20% to 30% and reduce hunger by up to 17%,” added Shongwe, citing a study by the World Economic Forum, that showed women produce 70% of Africa’s food.

One of the ways in which the partnership’s programme has already started benefitting women farmers in South Africa is through the Connected Farmer app.

The app provides live, real-time information on what farmers are producing in which regions, as well as connecting small-scale farmers across the agricultural value chain to enterprises and potential suppliers looking to source agricultural goods like crops and livestock.

The app, which was launched in 2016, also has a digital database of SAWIF members.

Meanwhile, Vodacom’s financial services offerings also support female small-scale farmers, by giving the farmers a wider choice of suppliers to sell their produce to and to be empowered through technology.

Deborah Motuku, President of SAWIF, said the partnership will help female farmers to become influential industry players.

“We are eager to see women play a central role in the agriculture value chain and supply our produce to both the local and international markets,” she said.

”The digital and financial training is preparing us for bigger things and we are now confident in using digital platforms to transact, communicate, and market our produce.”


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