Female farmers battle prejudice, culture

66 % of organic farmers are women as most men are attracted to chemical farming - which is easier and does not take up so much time. But the women battle to get land because of cultural prejudices, reports REGINA PASIPANODYA.

Goromonzi irrigation District Co-operative Organic farmer, Maudine Rikawu.
Goromonzi irrigation District Co-operative Organic farmer, Maudine Rikawu.

A piece of virgin land is kept aside for future generations and no one is allowed to use it until an heir is born or a son comes back. If by any chance a certain person manages to get a portion of it cultivate, it will only be a matter of time before they are asked to vacate it on a trumped-up reason.

These are some of the challenges that organic farmers in Murehwa and Goromonzi District face each season. Maudine Rikawu, 49, joined Goromonzi District Co-operative in a bid to practice an organic farming irrigation project. She and her colleagues are working on producing organic products – including peas, beans, pumpkins and rape. They plan to supply nearby schools and hospitals.

Customary beliefs

“Ironically, competition with non-organic farmers has become the least of our worries, considering that most people in our area now understand that organic products are healthier when compared to chemical products,” said Rikawu.

“Acquiring a piece of land for the project has become a huge challenge – especially to us women – due to customary beliefs,” she said.

Traditionally, land is allocated only to male children who are considered the ‘rightful beneficiaries’ and females are supposed to get married and start a new life under their husband’s belongings – including land.

Musoja Ruze, lead farmer of Ruze Association based in Murehwa District, said most farms in the area were owned by men. “Although men have it all when it comes to land ownership, they are not as hard working as women,” said Ruze.

“Small-holder farmers in our area are looked down upon. Most men have big egos and do not want to be associated with such belittling things,” she added.

Rikawu is therefore appealing to the government to comply with section 17 (i) (a) of the constitution, which says the state must promote full participation of women in all spheres of society on the basis of equality with men.

More aware

According to a non-profit making farmers’ organisation, Zimbabwe Organic Producers and Promoters Association (ZOPPA) survey report, 66 % of organic farmers are women since most men are attracted to traditional forms of chemical farming – which is easier and does not take long as compared to organic farming.

“Women are more aware when it comes to health matters as compared to men. However, even if they want to be engaged in normal farming alongside men, women receive less priority when it comes to getting free farming supplements,” said ZOPPA trust Executive Director, Fortunate Nyakanda.

However, ZOPPA does not support chemical farming it believes that organic farming is the only way to reduce the harmful effects of chemical residues on human health.

Promote organic

“This year we are running under the theme, ‘If what you eat is of great concern to you; then look for food produced in compliance to Zimbabwe organic standards. Produced by certified Zimbabwe organic farmers,” said Nyakanda.

ZOPPA urged government to relook at the current organic farming situation and put in place policies that protect and promote organic farmers especially women since their products are one of the best ways to reduce food diseases such as cancer and kidney problems.

In an exclusive interview with The Zimbabwean, Deputy Director of Food Safety and Port Health Management Victor Nyamandi said policies were already in place. “It is the government that is failing to implement food safety policies,which protect local consumers and also promote organic farmers,” he said.

Nyamandi emphasized that organic farmers should be given priority to reduce chemical products on the market.

“Chemical farm produce was tested in Bulawayo vegetable markets, especially tomato samples, and it was found out that most of them contained flubeudiamide and imedaclopid, which stimulate hormone production and also increase cholesterol in blood,” said Nyamandi.

Food and Nutrition Council representative, Lloyd Chadzingwa, said chemical products were highly toxic and harmful to human health.

“Many people still believes that food diseases emanated during the 2007-2009 era when a number of untested food were imported into this country, but that’s not the case,” he said.

He was supported by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, which highlighted that vegetable markets in Zimbabwe were poorly maintained. They also said there was a lack of poultry processing regulations.

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