Women farmers work to reshape agriculture and children's lives

The Rural Resources Centre, a local non-governmental organisation, is working with the United Nations Development Programme to help women farmers improve their yields and enrich their children’s diets in Manzununu village.

Cephas Manzununu
Cephas Manzununu

The RRC said it had noted that, for a very long time, women in the village had been denied access to land. A few women were given tiny plots of land to grow crops for sale to cover some household expenses.

In an interview with The Zimbabwean recently, the RRC’s programmes director, Joseph Muonwa, said his organisation recognised the challenges facing these women as they attempted to move from subsistence farming to larger scale production of crops for sale.

RRC started to work with the women in 2009, together with ministry of agriculture, through a local agricultural extension agent. The women grow seed crops such as beans and cow peas using their small plots in their homesteads.

Muonwa said his organisation’s effort to boost local food production among smallholder women farmers was an entry point for other development.

“We are connecting agriculture with nutrition and gender,” Muonwa said.

“We are working with women farmers to increase their production and to provide more resilient and higher yielding seeds,” he said.

Muonwa said they were also educating the women on the benefits of consuming the nutrient- and protein-rich seeds, which in the past were almost exclusively grown for sale.

Today, more and more women are using the seeds in their own homes, and this had helped reduce child malnutrition rates in the village.

One of the beneficiaries, Susan Maida, described how she and a group of women farmers in Manzununu village were reshaping agriculture, putting money in their pockets and improving their children’s nutrition in the process.

“In the beginning, my husband was sceptical about the project. Now, not only has he given me a larger plot of land so that I can grow more beans, but he also allows me to sell the surplus to the World Food Programme,” she said.

Maida said she could now pay her three children’s school fees, and was not dependent on her husband for all her needs.

Dadirai Chiwetu, another beneficiary, said: “I am now a happy mother as I can send my children to school and pay for their fees. I even give my children a small amount of money to buy snacks during their break at school and I’ve noticed that they are now more motivated to go to school.”

“My children are less often ill and look healthier since they started eating more beans,” she added.

The village head, Cephas Manzununu, who once fiercely opposed the project, is now very supportive.

“I have seen that the project is sustaining lives and I have given 200 hectares of farming land to the women farmers for their farming production. I want to encourage all the males to support this initiative as it has shown that it is a noble cause. Gone are the days when we suppressed women,” he said.

The local agricultural extension officer, Allan Chikosha, said the project in Manzununu was very holistic.

“The project has brought together key aspects of development, such as nutrition, capacity building and gender empowerment,” he said.

Despite the significant achievements of the project, Chikosha said the women farmers still faced many challenges.

“The women have poor access to credit and this still compels most of them to sell part of their production immediately after the harvest at a low price. High post-harvest losses and poor transportation infrastructure are additional factors limiting the women farmers’ ability to sell at a fair price and to invest in increased productivity,” he said.

RRC is taking the successful aspects of the project as it develops similar projects throughout the country, and is working with the government to support smallholder farmers countrywide.

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