Schoemann Striving Towards Empowering Women On Farms

She calls Koakoland the “University of her Life,” as it was the place where Wilma Schoeman of Kunene for Christ as a youngster learned all about the unlimited possibilities of empowering women on farms.

Schoeman relates how she arrived in Kaokoland in 1978, fresh from university to fulfil her life-long dream of empowering women in the remotest of remote areas in the country when she addressed the Agricultural Employers Association’s annual congress in Windhoek last week. From the Ovahimba women she learned that culture is like an onion: it has to be peeled to understand the core values. “Everything with the grace of God,” she says.

“Seeing these women battling every day to make an existence, drove me to start off my work by establishing women groups and make sure they were kept busy with activities all month long while she invited women from surrounding areas to participate. Activities centred around the importance of inviting God into your life in everything you do. Many farming communities, farmers’ associations, churches and private institutions joined her in her efforts to improve the quality of women and their children on farms.

Her presentation came in the wake of a report by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the empowerment of women in sub- Saharan Africa where women produce up to 80% of foodstuffs for household consumption and sale in local markets. According to the report, for crops such as rice, wheat and maize, which make up about 90% of food consumed by rural dwellers, it is women who mostly sow the seeds, do the weeding, cultivate and harvest the crops and sell surpluses. And for secondary crops such as legumes and vegetables, says the FAO, “Women’s contribution… is even greater,” adding that it’s as if only women are involved in producing these crops. What’s more, they make and tend the gardens that provide much-needed nutritional and economic well-being. Feeding the continent, while women farmers are essentially feeding the continent, they have remained largely in the background, calling little attention to themselves and receiving little help.

But this situation is changing as they spearhead efforts to transform Africa’s agricultural landscape. Being women in Africa means they are more associated with food preparation and care of the family than men. In rural Africa, vegetables supplement meals of maize, rice, potato and cassava or yam are a good source of protein. “Women tend to shop or procure food for their families, which in some cases means growing it in kitchen gardens,” the report states. But women farmers go beyond tilling the soil: they also ensure prudent food management–deciding what to keep for the household and what to sell. When a drought or economic crisis hits, women feel the pinch most, as they have to find ways to provide for their families.

It transpired during Schoeman’s presentation that, despite the role and impact of women in African agriculture, there’s still an unsettling disparity in the support they receive compared to men. A World Bank report states that in Nigeria, for example, while women constitute about 60% to 80% of the agricultural work force, men generally make key farm management decisions. “As a result, agricultural extension services throughout the country have traditionally focused on men and their production needs.” In their book Transforming Gender Relations in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa: Promising Approaches, authors Marion Davis, Cathy Farnworth and Melinda Sundell argue that women’s productivity is lower than that of men because they have limited access to resources such as land, credit and other production inputs.

Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Vice-President for Africa, warns that “the status quo is unacceptable and must change so that all Africans can benefit from their land.” The World Bank believes that women farmers who own property and have access to finance will have greater bargaining authority and control over their incomes. In addition, studies show that women are more likely than men to spend their incomes on their families’ food, education and health.

ActionAid, an international aid agency, has urged these leaders to fulfil that pledge lest farmers be unable to maintain the fight against hunger. “If women are given equal access to land, seeds, as their male counterparts, we can reduce hunger in the world by 140 million people, which is about 17% of people who are living hungry.” “Investing in women’s economic empowerment is a high-yield investment, with multiplier effects on productivity, efficiency and inclusive growth for the continent,” says Kathleen Lay from ONE, an organisation campaigning to end global poverty. The International Fertilizer Development Centre, an organisation that focuses on enhancing agricultural productivity in developing countries, puts it succinctly: “The African farmer is primarily a woman farmer. And she is a good farmer who can feed her family and her continent if she is given the tools and the opportunities to do so.”

Source : New Era