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Supporting women in agriculture

Written by Sphelele Ngubane

A KwaZulu-Natal woman farmer is pleased that government is supporting emerging female farmers, especially those who come from previously disadvantaged groups.

“We have to teach the youth to learn and to be business-minded with the little they have and to never undermine any business venture,” says Thanda Mbeje, who owns KwaMaNdlovu Gardens in KwaSwayimane, outside Pietermaritzburg. Thanda Mbeje owns KwaMaNdlovu Gardens

She says that newcomers to the agriculture industry must not expect to make a profit from the start. They must be patient and be prepared to learn from their mistakes.

Mbeje says she could have given up farming in 2019 when she harvested nothing from the farm after working hard planting crops. Instead, she persevered and today she is harvesting maize and had been picking about 500 heads of corn a day.  From this harvest, she makes about R2 500.

“In two weeks I have made R20 000 just from maize alone,” she says.

Mbeje says she has decided to separate her crops and plant with gaps of weeks in-between so she can stretch out harvesting.

Mbeje is one of a few women in the province who own commercial farms. Although she has been learning about farming from her uncle since 2016, Mbeje calls herself a junior farmer as she believes there is a lot she is yet to learn.

Her four-hectare farm, which now has 12 workers, currently produces maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes and amadumbe. She and her brother Manqoba Magidela bought the farm as a family business in 2016 but when he moved to the United States, she was left in charge of operations.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, female farmers often come up against similar obstacles including difficulties in accessing land, financial services, knowledge support, and technology. 

Delivering a talk during the ‘Women in Agriculture’ webinar recently, the department’s Minister Thoko Didiza said the country had joined a global coalition aimed at championing economic justice for women.

“In this regard, the issue of women’s empowerment will be central in the department’s policies, regulatory reform and programmatic intervention,” says Minister Didiza.

She says that women farmers would be supported to overcome the common challenges they face. Government initiatives to achieve this include ensuring that women benefit from at least half of State land released for agricultural purpose and that these women receive effective training and support, including assistance in securing markets for their goods.