Source: The Southern Times
Every day, rural women in Zimbabwe play a critical role in ensuring agricultural productivity and food security in the country. These women, notes a policy brief produced in September by Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST), titled "Gender and Food Security in Zimbabwe", also provide 70 percent of the labour in the agricultural sector.

Supporting the SAPST, the Journal of Social Development in Africa, a biannual peer-reviewed academic journal which focuses on social development issues as they affect the poor and marginalised in Sub-Saharan Africa, says that "most of the agriculture surplus in developing countries is produced by women and controlled by men."

Unfortunately, women farmers, especially those in remote areas, face different challenges as the government support is not adequate, a notion supported by the 2015 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report (ZVAR).

The ZVAR, just like the Journal of Social Development in Africa, clearly states that while there are commercial farmers, most of the women in rural areas are small-scale farmers and their contribution to the food production in the country is immense, but usually unrecognised.

Women Farmers Land and Agriculture Trust (WFLAT), a national non-profit membership trust, concurs: "Unlike men, female farmers in Zimbabwe, like any other developing nation, still face many challenges both socially and economically. Their roles are largely ignored as well as undervalued."

The organisation, constituted in the 10 provinces of the country and with a membership of 2 400 (plus/minus) women farmers with provincial co-coordinating committees, added: "Most women farmers still face numerous inequalities over and above constraints that are embedded in norms and practices in addition to laws that in turn institutionalise their discrimination.

"Despite being the majority in the agricultural sector, they are still confronted with issues such as less access to assets, credit services as well as markets."
On top of cultural discrimination related to ownership of assets and land, women farmers in Zimbabwe are still battling to have their voices heard at policy-making level.

As a result, they fail to get financial support in addition to information on quite a number of other agricultural issues.
Vaidah Mashangwa, the provincial development officer in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, says supporting women farmers, especially those from rural areas, is vital for agriculture growth in Zimbabwe.

"Given the importance of women's agriculture employment in rural areas, supporting them is the only way out," she said.
Mashangwa adds that women farmers need capacitation, not food handouts from non-governmental organisations and other donor organisations.
"Small-scale women farmers need to be capacitated. They require improved access to agricultural inputs, services and markets to increase their farming returns," she said, adding that "if women are capacitated, they can be able to open a range of small, medium and micro enterprises as well as take part in the Value-Addition and Beneficiation cluster of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) through agro-processing."

ActionAid, an international non-governmental organisation whose primary aim is to work against poverty and injustice worldwide, adds that providing women farmers with farming equipment, community-level water harvesting facilities and land rehabilitation initiatives needed to increase productivity is crucial towards attaining food security in any country.

The role of women farmers in reducing poverty, adds ActionAid, can also be effectively enhanced by increasing their knowledge as well as their technical skills.
"Knowledge and technical skills, supported by financial resources, can stimulate women farmers to improve the long term food security of children and households," notes the ActionAid.

Significantly, agriculture and food security issues in Zimbabwe are directly guided by key policies that include Zim-Asset, Comprehensive Agriculture Policy Framework (2015-2035) and Agriculture Gender Strategy and Zimbabwe Agricultural Investment Plan.

These policy frameworks are bold in and fully pronounce the need to mainstream gender issues in all national action plans to promote all-inclusive growth and development, but sadly, most of them have encountered challenges at implementation level, resulting in women still being unable to equally access and control land, assets as well as material resources.

Accordingly, to close the policy gaps, the Government, together with stakeholders in the gender fraternity as well as development partners, should create awareness of these policies at household and community levels as well as eliminate legal and cultural discrimination related to ownership and access to assets.

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