File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Addressing gender disparities in the agricultural sector is a prerequisite to increasing women and youth participation in the sector, creating much-needed employment opportunities and ensuring food security.

Despite the changes in the gender composition in other industries, the share of women’s contribution in South Africa’s agricultural labour market has been hampered by legal and cultural constraints which manifest themselves in unequal land inheritance, ownership and usage. In addition, women receive less than 10% of available credit and 7% of extension services, which is similar to the fate of women in the developing world and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

If anything, women’s participation in the agricultural sector has been volatile. In the quest to grow the sector and unlock employment generation, it is critical to explore ways of tackling gender disparity and improve the proportion of women in the agricultural labour market in the next few years.

Women constitute between 60% and 80% of smallholder farmers but make up only 15% to 20% of landholders in sub-Saharan Africa.

The legal and cultural barriers that impede women from fully participating in agriculture need to be tackled head-on in order to unlock the latent potential of this sector.

It is also important to note that women’s incomes make a larger impact on food security compared with those of men. Studies have shown that every rand in income earned by women achieves the same impact as R11 earned by men. Therefore, increasing the effective participation of women in commercial agriculture will significantly increase the potential to address food insecurity.

Despite disproportionate representation as landholders, the industry is making encouraging progress in increasing the number of women participating in leadership positions.

Several national agricultural associations and organisations, such as the African Farmers Association, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Fruit South Africa, Grain South Africa’s farmer development programme and the Agricultural Business Chamber’s Grain Unit, among others, have prominent women at the helm.

Their contribution should not only be limited to the labour market and farms but should also extend to management positions that can influence public forums and policy discussion.

Given women’s contribution in these roles, their inclusion in agricultural public policy engagements would potentially add a rich diversity of views that would address fundamental gender gaps. This desired outcome would, in all likelihood, not materialise if women are left out in the cold and if their valuable contribution in addressing these issues is not adopted.

There is an importance of increasing inclusion in the agricultural sector and more so within the Communal Property Institutions (CPI) structures.

Furthermore, there is a need for adequate representation of women within the CPI structure to ensure that women who have been recipients of the land reform programme play decision making roles within the CPI structures on their Communal Property Association (CPA).

The Vumelana Advisory Fund is an NPO that was established in 2012 to help beneficiaries of the land reform programme put their land to profitable use by establishing commercially viable partnerships between communities and investors.

Through the fund, we need to recognise and acknowledge the impact women can make in these structures in addressing some of the challenges being experienced by land reform beneficiaries on the ground.

We also need to foster an environment in the land reform setting to drive equal participation of women and empower them for their voice to be heard in the CPA structure on what should be done within the value chain.

Where women want to participate in traditionally male roles, they should be encouraged to do so, to chair CPAs and serve in roles including treasury, governance and other areas within the structure of the CPA, and to drive initiatives for community development and other decision-making roles.

Women must be capacitated through training to enable them to participate in projects where a lack of capacity has been identified to ensure that any challenges are dealt with through an effective process.

From a policy perspective, the government has done quite a lot in this area through B-BBEE, which stipulates the equal need for women participation across sectors.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has a policy framework to enable women to meaningfully participate in the land reform programme, and government should be commended.

However, a lot of work needs to be done on the ground to translate these policies into tangible outcomes for women since implementation has not been effective.

Our biggest concern is that if society continues with the current trajectory, we will never get to a point where we meet our transformation goals.

As we make progress towards land reform, we must make progress towards addressing gender issues and ensuring a balance. While we welcome increased focus on land reform, gender transformation and inclusivity must be an integral part of this process.

* Sihlobo is an agricultural economist and Setou is chief executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.