Overcoming the obstacles in the way of Africa’s female farmers
By Bonolo Sophie Maqeba, CEO of Black Women Empowered
Hailing from Ficksburg, a small town in South Africa’s Free State province, I come from very humble beginnings. Raised by parents who made enormous sacrifices daily, the value of hard work was instilled in me and my three siblings from a very young age. My parents used to say: “We are not rich and we can’t leave you any legacy, but we will give you the little that we have so that you can be educated, and in that way you will be independent enough to work your way up in life.”
Fast forward to today, and I hold a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Agriculture and am the CEO of Black Women Empowered, an agriculture-focused organisation that I started, after coming to terms with South Africa’s unemployment crisis.
My inspiration comes from the love I have for my children and the fear that they should not suffer or be job seekers for the rest of their lives. It has always been my vision to leave a legacy for my children.
Venturing into the agricultural industry, I witnessed and experienced four main challenges.
I saw that Africa’s women farmers are faced with massive challenges when it comes to accessing land – a critical resource. Even when they do secure land, they face tough tenure systems that are often influenced by biased customary norms and traditions built on the basis of social differentiation and inequality. These systems hinder the growth of Africa’s agricultural production, exacerbate poverty, and contribute to the exclusion of rural women.
Weak access to finance is another major hurdle faced by women in agriculture. Credit is an effective tool that enables investments and expansion, and that allows farmers to overcome seasonal issues – a considerable lag occurs between the time they incur costs and the time that they are able to generate income from their produce.
The next challenge is access to information and training. The participation of women in training programmes tends to be low due to a lack of awareness, societal barriers in the form of discriminatory cultural norms, and transportation barriers.
Finally, the division of labour on the basis of gender is common practice in Africa’s agricultural sector. Women tend to be mainly involved in the production of lower-value subsistence crops. It could be because they have different preferences and concerns, or because they have limited access to land, inputs, credit, information, or markets. In many instances, those that have access to markets are exploited and fetch lower prices than their male counterparts.
With this in mind, I joined the UN Women- and Standard Bank-backed Climate Smart Agricultural programme (UNCSA). I was driven by the need to find solutions to these pervasive challenges, as well as new challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The UNCSA programme strengthened my belief that agriculture and digital technology are the backbone of the economy.
Prior to joining the programme, I was planting on two hectares of land, and was making small profits due to a lack of resources. A year down the line, my business has grown substantially. I have learned important tricks of the trade, from effective storage for export goods to ensuring that fresh produce is sold quickly to avoid losses. And I want to explore future business opportunities in agro-processing and exports as I grow the business and expand it into the rest of Africa.
The programme has further fuelled my passion for agriculture. I remain steadfast in my beliefs and continue to draw strength from those women in my family who have shaped me and enabled me to be where I am today.
My grandmother, Paulina Vollenhoven, raised me and looked after me when my parents were at work. She instilled in me the values and principles that I have today, and she taught me to challenge myself and male-dominated industries – because we can do what they can if given a chance.
My mother, Flora Vollenhoven, is my pillar of strength. She sacrificed everything to give me a good education and has been with me through my deepest pains and darkest times of struggle. She cheers me on, prays for me, and encourages me to do more every day. I am because she has been.
I am deeply grateful to them and to myself – Sophie Bonolo Maqeba. I have endured countless struggles and have worked hard to achieve my dreams. I have picked myself up every time I have fallen, I have been brave and outspoken, and I have relentlessly chased my dreams while also single-handedly raising my wonderful children. I plan to leave a legacy rooted in agriculture and the transformation of an industry.View more
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Syngenta launches 2021 Leadership Academy for Agriculture Programme
With the right leadership, agriculture can heal South Africa – Twenty-eight agriculturists, from grain producers and agri-researchers to a Brahman stud manager and even a beekeeper, started their journey into leadership mastery.
This group, which represents the rich diversity of South Africa’s agriculture sector, is the 2021 class of the ninth annual Leadership Academy for Agriculture programme, sponsored by Syngenta South Africa. “The Academy is our investment in the future of South African agriculture, especially now when food security is more important than ever as we deal with a global pandemic,” says Ben Schoonwinkel, head of marketing for Syngenta South Africa.
“Our objective is to help shape the future of agriculture by equipping the next generation of leaders across the agriculture spectrum to address the real-life challenges that confront our industry. Judging by the contribution that the more than 200 alumni are making, we are indeed impacting the sector positively.”Ben Schoonwinkel, head of marketing for Syngenta South Africa
The Leadership Academy for Agriculture programme is supported by Grain SA and is presented in three modules of three to four days each, during which the candidates work in groups to research and present solutions to topical issues facing the local agriculture sector.
The curriculum is developed and facilitated by Thinking Fusion Africa, with the Northwest University Business School as academic partner. Candidates who complete the course therefore add a highly accredited leadership programme to their portfolio of academic achievements.
The impact and reputation of the programme are attested to by the fact that more than 300 young career agriculturists applied to be included in the class of 2021. Many of them were inspired to do so by alumni who described the programme as “demanding” and “rewarding” in equal measure.
In his address, Jannie de Villiers, CEO of Grain SA, emphasised the importance of the programme being aimed at young agri-professionals. He recalled experiencing the leadership development programme Syngenta presented for senior American producers in August 2011. “I was hugely impressed, but it was clear to me that we shouldn’t pour resources into teaching old dogs new tricks.”
Syngenta South Africa supported De Villiers’ conviction that a leadership development programme for the local agri-market had to focus on the younger generation, says Schoonwinkel.
Professor René Uys from Thinking Fusion Africa, who was recently appointed as a professor of practice at the NWU Business School on the strength of her work with the Leadership Academy, says that personal attributes and diversity were taken into account in the selection process.
“This business leadership development programme serves the entire agriculture sector, and we have seen in previous programmes that the more diverse the group is, the more the delegates are able to engage with real-life industry challenges in innovative ways,” she says.
While the purpose of the programme is to equip agri-professionals with the skills to tackle the industry’s challenges, its dream is for agriculture to be the unifying force and leader of economic growth in South Africa. “I believe that agriculture can heal this country, and my mantra is that leaders make things better,” said De Villiers. This, he said, is achieved when individuals change their mindset and behaviour, learn to listen and are open to participate and develop.View more
Standard Bank OneFarm Share platform targets 30-million meals in 2021
Standard Bank’s OneFarm Share platform provides over 1-million meals for food relief, targets 30 million in 2021
Standard Bank’s OneFarm Share initiative in South Africa, which matches requests for food relief to suppliers with good quality excess fresh produce, has, since November last year, collected and distributed more than 270 tonnes of food to accredited beneficiary organisations, providing over 1-million meals to vulnerable individuals.
In 2021, Standard Bank hopes to increase OneFarm Share’s impact by ten times – delivering 7 400 tonnes of food across all nine provinces, enabling over 30-million meals.
The partnership provides a digital platform where emerging and commercial farmers can sell or donate their produce into new markets.
“The need for food relief is greater than ever, with over 12-million South Africans unsure of where their next meal will come from,” says Lungisa Fuzile, Standard Bank South Africa Chief Executive. “Farmers are aware of this need, but feel unable to meet it, without a clear mechanism to manage the requests for donations and an efficient, quick and transparent process to donate food. OneFarm Share brings all the role players together from producers and logistics companies to consumers and beneficiaries under a single digital platform where needs can instantly be identified and addressed.”
Agriculture has been prioritised as being one of the top five ecosystems for the Standard Bank Group. As a result, the OneFarm platform has been launched as a digital business-to-business platform to connect and provide services across the agricultural ecosystem through Lend, Protect, Grow, Trade and Share services. To date this has been piloted in Uganda since August 2019.
In South Africa, the OneFarm Platform was launched through OneFarm Share as a result of the food crisis caused by Covid-19 lockdowns and to increase the sustainability of farming operations in the country.
As Standard Bank firmly believes that co-creation is the key to acceleration, it partnered with HelloChoice, a South African AgriTech with a digital fresh produce marketplace, as well as FoodForward SA, the largest food distribution non-profit organisation in South Africa. FoodForward SA focuses on the recovery and redistribution of edible surplus food from the supply chain (including retailers, manufacturers, and farmers). By partnering with organisations with existing capabilities, the initiative was up and running within just four months.
“By joining forces and working closely with Standard Bank to drive the OneFarm Share initiative, we can make a genuine, sustainable impact to reducing hunger and improving food security through ground-breaking online technology,” says Grant Jacobs, CEO & Co-Founder of HelloChoice.
The OneFarm Share platform aims to collate food requests from registered charity organisations and aggregates them onto an online marketplace. The requests are then matched to available produce listed by farmers and food producers. The food is made accessible to beneficiary organisations at a reduced cost or as a donation and the platform facilitates the smooth delivery of the right produce, to the right place, at the lowest possible cost.
To accelerate the launch, some of the bank’s Covid-relief funding was allocated to food and logistics procurement, which ensured that OneFarm Share’s beneficiary partner, FoodForward SA, could distribute this bulk nutritious food to various registered and vetted community feeding programmes, early childhood development centres, facilities that care for the frail and aged, centres that provide at-risk youth with skills, among others. This includes produce with high nutritional value such as cabbages, potatoes, spinach, butternut, beetroot and dried beans.
“The partnership with Standard Bank enables us greater access to a far larger network of farmers who donate into our network,” comments Andy Du Plessis, MD of FoodForward SA. “Through regular donations of fresh produce, we can provide food donations to beneficiary organisations that is more nutritious.”
Standard Bank plans to grow the platform funds by approaching corporates with CSI funds earmarked for food relief as well as the bank’s retail base and high net worth clients. It has also launched a SnapScan account and code for members of the public that wish to donate.
“Innovative technology has the potential to transform agriculture on the continent.”Lungisa Fuzile, Standard Bank South Africa Chief Executive
“It will also enable us to create solutions for the most vulnerable members of our society. Therefore, Standard Bank is focused on creating platform solutions that can connect and provide services to multiple players across the agricultural ecosystem.”
A unique offering with scalable potential
Fuzile explains that OneFarm Share is a unique offering that has not been attempted at scale in South Africa.
“A crisis like Covid-19 requires a more intensive focus on innovation as it provides challenges that may not normally exist. OneFarm Share is our response”.
“The OneFarm Share initiative is not simply about providing hunger relief and reducing food wastage. It is also about restimulating the economy and helping to recreate markets for farmers who may have lost their traditional markets due to the impact of lockdown measures or beyond. Many have been unable to recover. The platform gives them an opportunity to sell produce in a way that they may have not had access to previously: to a structure that supports the vulnerable in our society. We are excited about the enormous potential that OneFarm Share has to ensure the sustainability of agriculture and reduce the problem of hunger on the continent,” Fuzile concludes.View more