Home » Agriculture and land reform as a means to empower women

Agriculture and land reform as a means to empower women

by Media Xpose

By Moses Rannditsheni, Director: Media & External Communications, Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

Agriculture plays an important role in the process of economic development and can contribute significantly to household food security. It is an engine of growth and poverty reduction in nations in which it is the poor’s primary employment, according to the international development community.

However, many developing countries’ agricultural sectors are underperforming, in part because women, who play critical roles in agriculture and the rural economy as farmers, labourers and entrepreneurs, nearly always confront greater barriers to productive resources than men.

National governments and the international community will be better able to fulfil their goals for agricultural development, economic growth and food security if they build on women’s contributions and take steps to reduce these obstacles.

An increasing amount of research suggests that empowering women can result in economic gains for women, their families and their communities (Doss, 2021). Approximately four-fifths (79.7%) of South African households that were involved in agriculture were involved in an attempt to secure an additional source of food (StatsSA, 2021).

Sustainable farming as an entry point towards becoming commercial farmers

Sustainable farming is a broad term which refers to farming methods that will also nurture society, the environment and the economy. It is an alternative to mainstream, industrialised agricultural practices. Sustainable farmers seek to support community health and well-being and to work with nature, while still being profitable businesses. 

Women make essential contributions to the agricultural, rural economies and the environment in all developing countries. Rural women, especially, often manage complex households and pursue multiple livelihood strategies. Some of these household activities include producing agricultural crops, tending animals, processing and preparing food, working for wages in agricultural or other rural enterprises, collecting water, engaging in trade and marketing, caring for family members and maintaining their homes.

A number of these activities may not be defined as economically active employment; however, they are essential to the wellbeing of rural households (Doss, 2021). Sustainable agriculture, therefore, exists within both the commercial, subsistence and small-scale farming.

What are the key challenges hindering women’s progression into the commercial agricultural sector?

In much of the world, the face of farming is female, yet women come up against various barriers that limit their full potential as farmers.

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.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation (UN), challenges facing women include access to land, limited access to technological advances and market opportunities, and the lack of infrastructure. The World Economic Forum argued that, 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%.

The FAO report further indicates that approximately 820 million people worldwide, who are currently undernourished, live in developing countries, the same places where women are key to food production. Therefore, giving females access to the same resources and education as males could increase food production by women by up to 30%, potentially eliminating hunger for 150 million people.

Abolishing the following gender-specific barriers in farming, would not only empower women to achieve their highest economic potential, but it could also help feed a hungry world:

Expand women’s access to land and finance: Providing women with greater access to land, finance and production inputs is crucial to closing the productivity gap between men and women.

Link women to agricultural value chains: When women are linked to agricultural value chains from production all the way to processing and marketing, they help make traditional farming more productive and commercially viable. Inclusive value chains also offer work opportunities for other people off the farm.

Improve rural women’s access to training and information: Knowledge of farming techniques is crucial to productivity; however, women farmers have inadequate access to agricultural extension and training services. It is also important that training and agricultural technologies are accessible and adapted to women’s needs and constraints.

What are the opportunities for women in the agricultural sector?

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development strives to make basic infrastructure available to farmers, such as fencing, boreholes and basic input support. The main concern for farmers currently is rural infrastructure, especially rural roads, both on and off farms.

The department is undertaking robust engagements to see how best this can be addressed, working closely with farmers and other stakeholders to ensure this is fixed.

The land reform programme, which is crucial in agricultural support, continues to intentionally aim at including the most important groups of society, which are women and youth. The department is also exploring arrangements for communal land as this could be a process that enables  it to unlock investment in rural communities, increase market access opportunities  and increase production in these areas.

The funding mechanisms that are available to farmers and designated groups are the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP), Ilima/Letsema and Land Development Support. The department  has developed a blended finance instrument working with development finance institutions and private banks.

From 2017 to date, 62 336 farmers were trained, of which 32 020 (51.4%) were women. The breakdown is as follows:

Type of training programmeAggregate totalWomen supported
Experiential Training, Internship and Professional Development Programme1 032617 (59,8%)
External Bursary Scheme1 8171 010 (57,5%)
Farmer training (CASP)58 45829 824 (51%)
Graduates Placement Programme (CASP)—for 2018–20201 029569 (55,3%)

How can private businesses assist?

Private businesses can provide support by:

  • organising women to increase their bargaining power and collective strength and benefit from private and public supportive programmes;
  • enabling access to social services for women and their families;
  • building women’s capacity by facilitating their access to education, technology, knowledge and information; and
  • facilitating capital formation through asset ownership and access to financial services.

How does legislation assist in driving women empowerment within the sector?

South Africa has an extensive history of gender discrimination which continues to be evident in the prevailing societal echelons where women are relegated to the traditional subordinated roles.

Women also remain the victims of the gender pay gap that continues to rise, consequently seeing them being paid less than their male counterparts. Although this challenge has been experienced across the globe, it is being addressed by policymakers and the business society needs to address it urgently because it is discriminatory and unsustainable.

The Constitution of South Africa refers to the need for transformation to address the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. The Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 Section 9 (3) further consolidates fundamental human rights and outlaws discrimination based on several grounds, including gender, age, disability, location and race.

The economic inclusion of women, youth and persons with disabilities has become so dire in the country owing to the broadening inequalities typified by entrenched patriarchy and other forms of social exclusions, escalating cases of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) and the devastating effects of Covid-19.  

The country, as well as the department has been actively conforming to the international, regional and national treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which is the international bill on the rights of women, Beijing Platform of Action for Gender Equality (BPA), United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) and United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030 also explicitly accentuates the need for inclusive growth in the endeavour to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality and raise employment. The NDP envisions rural areas that are spatially, socially and economically well-integrated across municipal, district, provincial and regional boundaries where residents have economic growth, food security and jobs as a result of the Agrarian Transformation and Infrastructure Development Programme, and have improved access to basic services, healthcare and quality education.

The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality (WEGE) Bill calls for the progressive realisation of at least 50% representation of women in decision-making structures, improved and equal access to education and training, skills development and measures to promote women’s reproductive health, elimination of discrimination and harmful practices, including gender-based violence.

Some of the policy instruments developed and still being developed by DALRRD include:

  • The introduction of the Beneficiary Selection and Land Allocation Policy, inter alia, 50% for women, as an intervention to unlock women’s access to land.
  • Draft National Policy on Comprehensive Development Support,which stipulates 50% target for women.
  • Developed Women Empowerment Strategyin agriculture, land reform and rural development, in collaboration with UN Women, which awaits approval by DALRRD.
  • Introduction of Norms and Standards for the inclusion of designated groupsthat seeks to influence departmental programmes, including post-settlement programmes, such as CASP, to increase and mainstream women participation in the sector by adhering to the 50% target.
  • Blended finance, a financial support model, has been introduced to reduce reliance on grants and increase access and affordability of loans by black producers. This model also emphasises the need to adhere to the 50% target for support to women.

How will empowered female farmers help promote socio-economic development within society?

Female farmers take responsibility for the well-being of the members of their families, including food provision and care for children and the elderly. Women from indigenous and grassroots communities are often also custodians of traditional knowledge, which is key for their communities’ livelihoods, resilience and culture.

More so, promoting and ensuring gender equality and empowering rural women through decent work and productive employment, not only contributes to inclusive and sustainable economic growth, but also enhances the effectiveness of poverty reduction and food security initiatives.

How big a role does land ownership play in women empowerment?

The issue of land access and ownership remains an important productive asset that women need. After the promulgation of the Native Land Act in 1913, women were at the forefront in waging struggles against land dispossession.  The quest for women’s access to land was also reflected in the Women’s Charter of 1954 before the drafting and adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955. This was highlighted by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in a webinar hosted on 12 August 2021.

Enabling women farmers to control their resources is important to achieving not only the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 — gender equality and empowerment of women and girls but also many others, including eliminating poverty (SDG1) and ending hunger (SDG2).

When Africa’s female farmers thrive, everyone benefits: the women themselves, the children in whom they invest, the communities that they feed and the economies to which they contribute. With the right investments and policies, Africa’s women-run farms could produce a bumper crop of development.

What resources does the government make available to empower female farmers?

The government of South Africa continues to play an important role in agriculture for female farmers because of their effort to fight food insecurity and poverty. Several policies, programmes and strategies have continuously been developed to acknowledge, encourage and increase the participation of women, young women and women with disabilities in the agricultural sector.

The major thrust of these programmes was to underline the fact that women play a significant role in food security, job creation, economic growth and poverty alleviation. Therefore, investing in them will promote sustainable agricultural production in the country and unlock enormous economic growth. Some of the agricultural programmes implemented include:

  • CASP and Ilima/Letsema, 2004;
  • Jobs Fund (2019);
  • Presidential Employment Stimulus (2020); and
  • Farmer entrepreneur awards.

These programmes have the long-term ambition of leveraging women entrepreneurs from being subsistence and smallholder producers to commercial entrepreneurs who also venture into export markets.

The department made land available by lease to females. What has been the impact, challenges and opportunities?

The department had acquired allocated PLAS land to women from 2015 as follows:

  •   For the past six years, the department allocated 440 331 hectares from 292 farms. Allocations range from commercial, smallholders, farm dwellers to labour tenants’ categories.
  • Of the 440 331 hectares, 190 169 hectares were allocated to women.
  • There are 1 669 beneficiaries of which 414 are women:
    • 190 169 hectares (43%) allocated to women.
    • 414 women beneficiaries (25%).
Allocated farms 2015—March 2021
PSSCFarmsHectares allocatedNumber of beneficiariesHectares allocated to women
TOTALS292440 3311 669414190 169

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