…albeit persistent operational challenges
By Partinella Ngozo
The mentioning of Gokwe is usually associated with negative and pejorative remarks that borders on placing it as the archetype of a pristine and backward community in urgent need of the associated paraphernalia for modernity, but the active role being played by women, though often go unnoticed and unreported, will contribute immensely to the re-imaging of Gokwe area and its populace.
Gokwe women are contributing massively to food and nutrition demands of their communities through community gardens but little, if anything, is recognised for such sterling efforts to an area whose marginalisation is well known in Zimbabwe.
The women, out of sheer determination to provide for their families, have remained resolute in contributing to food security amidst lack of requisite tooling and equipment. The community gardening projects are in sync with one of the key 14 national pillars of Zimbabwe’s economic blueprint, National Development Strategy 1(2021-2025) on food security and nutrition security. Their farming activities also have a huge bearing on some of the Sustainable Developmental Goals especially on No poverty, Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-being.
The economic empowerment drive by the government has encouraged rural women to venture into projects that sustain themselves as well as their communities. Women from rural areas of Zimbabwe form the backbone of the agricultural sector but they generally work as subsistence farmers, or as casual wage laborers. For a long time now, menial and subsistence work was not considered employment but having a critical role in Gross Domestic Product.
In my recent visit to Gokwe, in Masuka area in ward 5, I met Faith Muwandagara a young woman farmer who has positively impacted her community through her garden project which is doing well even in the face of crippling challenges. Her journey into farming started when she was a young girl. In June this year after harvesting her seasonal crops, she started a garden that would supply fresh produce during spring time with the help of other professional farmers.
“I felt that as women we shouldn’t wait for the rainy season only so during lockdown I started my garden project to supply fresh green mealies in and surrounding areas. I planted 5000 heads of cabbages, 2000 plants of onion, 1000 tomato plants and green maize,” she said.
Muwandagara said that she uses manual irrigation and with assistance from her fellow colleagues, she has managed to dig a well to water her crops. The women in Masuka area have also found employment opportunities from this project and are also benefiting fresh crops which bolster food and nutrition security in their households.
Their venture is not without its share of daunting challenges. According to Muwandagara, transport, equipment, inputs and chemicals are some of the major challenges they are facing.
Rennet Mberikwazvo another woman farmer from Gokwe, Jahana area specializes in castor beans, sugar-beans, rice, maize, sunflower and other small grains. She faces challenges ranging from lack of land tenure security to poorly-designed input supply programmes.
“We are facing a lot of challenges especially the inputs which are very expensive. Most of the organisations which deals in loans do not give us because the land is not mine but belong to my husband. This means that I would not be having security to be financed by the them. Even in terms of inputs they only give guarantors and most men do not allow us to take the loans since they feel that as women we are not capable of servicing it,” she said.
Though she faces some challenges, Mberikwazvo is an inspiration to many women in her area. She recently had a bumper harvest and managed to harvest sixty buckets of brown rice which assist in eradicating poverty in her community.
Olga Nhari the Founder and Chairperson of Women in Agriculture Union (WAU) said that, most women do not have access to finance because they lack collateral. She said that most banks which are giving out loans such as Women’s bank offers microfinance loans which do not apply for farmers since loans gain interest every month. This becomes a challenge for farmers who have to wait for the harvest in order to pay back the loans.
Nhari urged the government to revert back to the old system where farmers were allowed to pay back after three years. This would make sense to farmers instead of those loans which accrue every month. She also touched on the issue of inputs and stated that, so far there are no inputs for farmers and most presidential inputs are given to farmers when it is already late to start planting their crops. She said that most women farmers are being left out especially on the distribution planning of inputs because they lack access to information.
“As women on the issue of access to information you realise that we have a lot of duties as women farmers because we miss a lot of information due to our tasks of being mothers and community care givers leaving us with little time to make the economic and civic affairs of our existence giving birth to cyclical marginalization. However, as an organisation we are trying to give access to information to women through networking on the WhatsApp platform and so far we have forty-eight groups. This form of communication is still leaving behind some women in communal areas as well but we are still trying to find a network which is willing to partner with us in bulk SMS so that we send them to our women farmers in rural areas,” she said.
WAU is currently teaching women farmers to use what they have and not to use bank loans since agriculture is one business that people can start small and grow with time. As a union they are also planning to start a women revolving fund so that women are able to access.
“As women farmers we have schemes that help women grow for example we have the piglet pass on scheme and chicken pass on scheme, this we hope it will give women starter packs to start a project,” she said.
Nhari urged the government to afford women land based on the efforts they are making to enhance food security and nutrition without their own land. There are sound policies in Zimbabwe providing for gender inclusivity but what is lacking is the implementation matrix to break age old inequalities along gender.
“The land should be given to women even five-hectares if we are serious about food self-security and sufficiency as a nation. Let us give women who are productive and eradicate hunger as Zimbabweans,” she said.