News: Greater Support Needed For Botswana’s Women Farmers

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GABORONE, May 5, 2010 (IPS) – On the outskirts of Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, Charity Molefhi is learning the ropes of the horticulture industry.

The 32-year-old former insurance consultant is one of many female farmers who are actively participating in Botswana’s agricultural sector to boost food security, employment creation and increase the sector’s contribution to the National Gross Domestic Product.   “I just went into agriculture with no academic qualification but only my passion for farming from growing up in a family of farmers. I am slowly learning many things that I did not know about growing vegetables,” Molefhi says.

With limited support available to women farmers, Molefhi was fortunate to receive a cash injection of 500,000 pula (about $72,000) from the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) to start her business, GR8 Minds Industries. CEDA is a company established the government to provide financial and technical support for business development. She used the money to drill and equip a borehole, procure irrigation equipment, net shading, fencing, farm tools, a car and to construct a building. The funds also provided working capital.

At the farm, a staff of five men and women are busy picking green peppers while others package tomatoes ready for distribution. The farm is currently using a one and half hectare plot for planting purposes.

The company supplies several retail outlets and individuals but Molefhi says the market is difficult to penetrate. “Many [retail outlets] just buy from those with the lowest prices regardless of the product quality. That is frustrating for some of us who work very hard,” she says. In particular, cheap South African produce grown on a large scale is a stumbling block in the competition for markets.

Another drawback has been her lack of knowledge of farming vegetables. At the farm, there are piles of rotten tomatoes and ripe but cracked butternuts – the result of overwatering. But Molefhi is undaunted by the challenges and believes with hard work and endurance, this small piece of land has the potential to contribute to the country’s food basket, which is currently under strain.

Although Botswana is ranked as a middle-income country – its main sources of revenue are diamonds and beef sales to the European Union – it is heavily reliant on imported foods. Speaking to the local press in April, the Minister of Agriculture, Christian De Graaff, said the country is producing less than half of its basic food requirements.

According to the ministry’s spokesperson Nathaniel Motshabi, there are currently no tailor-made programmes or government schemes aimed at assisting women in agriculture.

Motshabi told IPS the only programme specifically catering to women – the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development Programme – was suspended in November 2009, pending the outcome of an ongoing review. Under the programme, women could access 70 percent of the total costs of their agricultural projects.

Women’s involvement in agriculture is also limited by gender biased land ownership patterns. Male heirs normally inherit land and while women may be land users, the majority do not have title. According to 1993 agricultural census data, only 36 percent of farm owners were female. Without land rights and other resources like cattle that could be used as collateral, women in Botswana also struggle to get loans and other support services from banks and government schemes.

However, the ministry is reviewing its policies to encourage greater participation in the sector. Motshabi said government is making efforts to attract the youth to farming as a way of regenerating the declining number of farmers.

A Young Farmer’s Fund (YFF), introduced in 2007, has shown significant growth since its inception, approving loans for livestock rearing, horticulture, dairy and dog breeding.

According to CEDA public relations manager, Alina Masenya, the number of projects under the YFF increased from 42 in 2007 to 129 by the end of 2009 with a total value equivalent to $8.3 million.   The fund also provides training and mentoring to beneficiaries to ensure long-term sustainability and the success of funded businesses.

By Alma Balopi IPS GenderWire

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