Women play a crucial role in South African agriculture. Their successes are often overlooked, but the fact is that our food security rests on the shoulders of women-run agricultural projects.
In Southern Africa, it is women who keep their families food secure. “They are also the labourers up and down the value chain, producing, distributing and determining how produce is consumed. They are key role players in the rural sector,” emphasised Nidhi Tandon, UN Women’s socio-economic adviser for East and Southern Africa, at a 2021 virtual round table.
While women across Africa play an essential role, particularly in rural agriculture, their efforts are regularly underestimated and underappreciated. This is partly because within patriarchal systems, women’s decision-making is subservient to men, despite women being largely responsible for food production and household management.
There remains a lot of work to be done to support female farmers in South Africa. Challenges imposed by a patriarchal system still need to be overcome. Access to land is critical for empowerment, but women remain sidelined in agricultural land ownership, while it is also harder for them to find financial support or role models within the industry.
Researchers have also found that the empowerment of women may increase productivity and that a woman’s income is far more impactful on the family and the wider community than a man’s. This is why Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) feels it is critical to highlight the successes of women-run agricultural projects within our portfolio.
Since 2021, FTFA has supported a total of 75 women-run food gardens, ranging from small community gardens and special opportunity schools to large agricultural cooperatives.
Data from 37 of these projects illustrates the productivity and diversity of these female-led projects. A total harvest of 36,806kg equates to an average of 995kg of fresh produce per project. The smallest projects produce harvests of approximately 6 to 10kg. Ratanang Agricultural Cooperative Ltd is the largest producer, reporting 15,477kg of goods worth R105,865.00.
Six projects reporting data do not sell produce from their food gardens. Four are soup kitchens which feed those in need (while one soup kitchen also provides food donations). The other two projects are education development centres (EDCs) that use fresh produce to supplement learners’ meals.
Projects being run by women with FTFA’s support act as fantastic role models for other women in agriculture.
Elizabeth Mahlangu, for example, started Mmakgomo Agricultural Cooperative in Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng, after her husband lost his job. With a family to feed and expenses to cover, she started a food garden and invited other women in the community to join as a way of creating employment for themselves. The project is now growing produce on a 1.2-ha food garden as well as growing maize and keeping livestock on their 120-ha property.
Qholaqhwe Garden Project near Phuthaditjhaba, Free State, was started to supplement meals for over 200 orphaned and vulnerable young children (OVCs) in the EDC’s care with vegetables from the food garden. Since 2018, the project has expanded its active garden from 945m2 to 4.5ha, and now has over 1,060 beneficiaries. The project has also assisted neighbouring communities, providing meals and transferring agricultural skills to community members.
The Mahata Mmoho Agricultural Cooperative in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng, meanwhile, has been a driving force for women in its community. The project founders realised that to achieve community development, they would need to start by developing the women of the community. The cooperative therefore aims to equip women and youth with agricultural skills to create employment and support self-sustaining families. In 2016, the project was recognised at the Gauteng Female Entrepreneurial Awards hosted by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, winning the subsistence producer and young farmers categories as well as a special award granted by the MEC.
Small projects can also make a big difference. Siyaphambili Womens Hub is an all-women group started to help grandmothers who are primary caregivers and guardians to their grandchildren. The garden’s produce ensures that project members have fresh food, while the women sell excess crops to generate an income to help support their grandchildren.
Women continue to face and overcome adversity to keep their families and communities food secure. FTFA is proud to be a leading supporter of women-led agricultural projects, helping to increase food security in communities across South Africa.