FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 file photo, women carrying wood walk past a French military patrol 10 kms south of Yaloke, north of Bangui, in Central African Republic. Fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest have underscored the challenges of conserving the Earth's remaining forest cover but the world's poorest continent, home to over 1.2 billion people, has long struggled to protect its forests amid demand for plant-based energy sources seen by many as cheap, such as charcoal or firewood. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
JOHANNESBURG - The release of the National Treasury's proposed economic recovery plan has been met with optimism by the agricultural sector.

The plan, titled Economic Transformation, Inclusive Growth and Competitiveness, offers some good news for farmers, including better credit products and insurance options for farmers as well as assistance for small-scale farmers to move towards higher- value crops.

It says that water management - a vital issue in developing agriculture - will be addressed. The plan aims to create an additional R6billion in agriculture exports over 10 years.

Unfortunately, the plan has not said much about the gender gap in economic development.

This key aspect of inclusion is often overlooked: are women reaping the benefits of economic growth strategies? For growth to be inclusive, it must consider how women can be empowered.

This notion is part of South Africa's National Development Plan - transformation of the economy must include the active participation and empowerment of women.

According to Statistics South Africa, only half of our country's women are active participants in the economy - a massive imbalance that cannot be ignored.

Agriculture is a primary economic sector in South Africa, and we need to ensure that women have full access to the economic benefits offered by the Treasury's new plan.

The kind of inclusive growth the plan speaks of can only be achieved if the plan does not cement or exacerbate the gender gap in the sector.

This is not only an issue of fairness and progress. Research has also shown that increasing women's participation in agriculture has a large positive impact on food security.

In a country where so many go to bed hungry, the importance of food security cannot be overstated.

When the Treasury speaks of better funding and support for farmers, it must ensure that those options are being actively communicated to women in or who may wish to join the sector.

When water management is being discussed, women must be part of those discussions.

When financial investments by the government are being considered, the greater impact that increasing women's incomes will have must be included in the calculations.

But the government cannot do this alone. In our struggling economy, resources are extremely limited - more so with each budget cut.

To get the economy working again, the private sector also needs to play its part. When businesses work together with one another and with the government, there is so much more growth to be found.

The Citrus Growers Association's (CGA) Grower Development Company has taken up this challenge with respect to citrus farming. We are committed to supporting the women growers in our organisation, and increasing the number of women participating in this sector.

Already a third of our members are women, who have access to the organisation's support and expertise for developing farmers.

We are specifically advocating for the role of women and the youth in the sector to be expanded.

We hope other organisations will similarly commit themselves to this purpose. It is not enough to speak of women's empowerment only in Women’s Month. Real inclusive growth requires a year-round commitment.

Lukhanyo Nkombisa is general manager of the CGA Growers Development Company.

BUSINESS REPORT