African Development Bank special envoy on gender Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi. Photo: Etienne Creux


Lusaka - Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi has pursued ambitious targets since her appointment last September as special envoy on gender at the African Development Bank (AfDB), thus far based in Tunis, Tunisia.

The bank, which is set to move to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, has verbally committed to targeting up to 50 percent of capital ring-fenced specifically for women, and Fraser-Moleketi appears to thrive under the compulsion to smash the gender glass ceiling.

Speaking to Independent Newspapers at the bank’s women’s economic summit in Lusaka on Saturday, she said South Africa should exchange development practices with its colleagues on the continent.

The South African government delegation at the summit was woefully low-profile, with rumours that Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu had sent a junior representative only. She was not at the summit.

In contrast, the governments of Mozambique and Zambia were represented by senior cabinet ministers, and there were senior business delegations from the rest of the continent.

Earlier this week, Fraser-Moleketi visited a sophisticated irrigation project on a smallholders’ co-operative funded by the AfDB in Nega-Nega.

“The Nega-Nega irrigation scheme is a sustainable public-private sector partnership (PPP) of smallholders and women’s sugar producers.

“It is 100km out of Lusaka – it took us about two hours to get there,” she told Independent Newspapers.

“It’s quite transformational, because it’s an interesting PPP structure. The bank has put resources into the project through the Zambian government, 148 smallholder farmers, and Zambia Sugar (which is Illovo).”

Fraser-Moleketi said the farmers had secured a loan without collateral from a commercial bank, South Africa’s FNB, because the funding mechanism was such that they sold all their sugar cane directly to Zambia Sugar.

“Part of the payment from Zambia Sugar goes directly to debt repayments.

“It’s about US $500 000 (R5.2 million) a year, which goes to smallholders,” she said.

The “state-of-the-art water pump” which the AfDB has funded – its key competence given its focus on infrastructure development – employs 500 youth and pumps five nearby reservoirs using gravity.

For the pump to work, Nega-Nega was electrified, she said, which provided surrounding households with electricity through the initiative.

Further, the smallholders have planted soya and wheat to use the land which they have started tilling, she added.

At her recent visit to the community, she said a local man got up to ask the AfDB how the loan was being serviced – “very much a male mentality”.

“(But) they have a direct market – which is guaranteed. (Then) a woman from the management structure, gets up and says: ‘I am secretary of the management structure.’

“She pulls out a hand-written note. She’s effectively the company secretary in this village co-operative. And she says: ‘This project has had a major impact on our lives. And we know there won’t be early marriages because of this project – we women have independence; we have choices,’” Fraser-Moleketi said.

“When you want rights, it’s clear you’ve got to make sure that women have economic empowerment.”

The Nega-Nega project’s co-operative is 11 percent women-owned – that’s 16 female-headed households in addition to the male-headed houses which have women members.

“The women plant the seedlings, and the men use the machetes. They first burn the plantation; and then cut it down. That’s why the co-operative works; because if you’re just women, it wouldn’t be as easy,” she said.

But it’s an interesting story in supply and demand in the commodities market too.

If the smallholders of Nega-Nega had just planted maize they could have earned $1 000 a hectare.

For their sugar cane they get an income of between $6 000 and $7 000 a hectare.

“It’s a large-scale commercial undertaking and it’s sustainable. It’s not grant funding. These farmers will be able to expand.”

Smallholders need to come together, because if they sold to the market individually it wouldn’t work.

“This is what South Africa should be doing, but we haven’t reached this point. Because you need to ensure you have the commercial undertaking.

“But here’s the possibility to do the turnaround.”

Sunday Independent