By ANNIE ZULU
MANY widows in Zambia, especially in rural areas, have taken up small scale farming as a way of supporting their children’s education.
fifty-year-old Chaka Mbewe from Chongwe, is one such person.
She lost her husband years back and had to depend on farming to cater for the four children the husband left behind.
She has a four and a half acres on which she grows maize and groundnuts and an additional goats and pigs.
Ms Mbewe said farming was the only thing she could do to support her children’s education, but several challenges such as lack of fertilizer, traction services and others made it difficult for her to succeed.
Generally, rural communities lack lots of opportunities including income generating activities for women to take advantage of.
The effect of this is the constant migration of young females from rural to urban areas to engage in illicit activities.
Undoubtedly, women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, yet they produce less than their male counterparts.
That is not because women are less able than men or because they are less resourceful. Certainly, it is also not because they are less motivated than their male counterparts.
According to gender activist Betty Mumba, it is because women do not benefit equally from farm inputs such as fertiliser, insecticides, machinery and information on modern farming practices.
This gap is making it impossible for Zambian women to become the thriving farmers they need to be to pull themselves out of poverty and give their children a better life.
Ms Mumba said if women countrywide had the same access to productive resources as men, they could boost agricultural production and help reduce levels of hunger.
“In rural areas the majority of women are engaged in agriculture as their main economic activity and many of these women are the breadwinners of their families. It is out of their sweat that children are fed, clothed and school fees paid,” Ms Mumba said.
Culturally in Zambia, many women do not own land even though they form the largest percentage of the agriculture workforce.
Lack of land is making it difficult for women to engage in commercial agriculture.
Also because of lack of resources, they do not have access to hired labour and tractor services. They struggle on their small farms alone, hence their engagement in subsistence farming. Women also tend to face greater challenges when it comes to securing credit. They are generally less experienced with borrowing from an institution, and without assistance and support, they find it difficult to access the much needed finance.
Most agricultural extension officers’ focus is always on owners of large-scale commercial farms while providing limited research and farming techniques to smallholders, the majority of whom are women.
Most advanced technology such as tractors, cultivators, planters and other farming equipment often benefited male farmers to the detriment of women.
Lack of market research and information limit women farmers to market access as they are confined to local markets where prices are generally low and exploitative.
Lands Minister Jean Kapata says Government was aware of the fact that majority of women in the country, especially in rural areas, did not have access to land. She however said this will soon be a thing of the past as Government was working towards giving priority of land acquisition to women.
She said the Patriotic Front government under President Edgar Lungu’s administration was committed to its promise of ensuring that 40 percent of women had access to land.
“Access to land still remains a challenge to women, but that will no longer continue because the PF government is determined to empower women through land and ensure that women have access to land just like the men.
“We are more interested in empowerment and attainment of gender equality as a prerequisite for sustainable social and economic development of the country.
“In Zambia only about 20 percent women have secure access to land, but as Government we will make sure that at least 40 percent of land in the country goes to women,” Ms. Kapata said. She observed that having secure access to land would help to empower women, both individually and collectively.
Ms Kapata stressed that women were also entitled to land, saying that Government would ensure that women’s rights such as land were protected and promoted.
She said affirmative programmes to support women’s access to land administration services were underway.
Ms Kapata said land was a form of security and collateral for women, building women’s resilience and food security, as well as raising their social status and dignity.
“Access to land means that women will have access to financial assets, including credit and savings, and also reduce the poverty levels in Zambia, because poverty has a feminine face. So we will ensure that women’s rights on land are protected and promoted,” she said.
Empowering and investing in women farmers, specifically in rural areas, will significantly increase agricultural productivity while reducing poverty in Zambia