Women want land, De Lille told
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LAND rights organisations and representatives of women working on farms have vowed to push for access to unused state-owned land to ensure food security.
The resolve came during a three day conference which brought together more than 30 organisations representing farm workers and rural women to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the agricultural sector.
Director of Women On Farms Project (WFP), Carmen Louw said farmworkers were hard hit by the pandemic and despite being regarded as essential workers, they were not given sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and additional benefits.
"They are the most vulnerable and always put their lives at risk so they can feed families. The pandemic has also resulted in changes in the agricultural sector and it was imperative that we reflect on the challenges and come up with ways of mitigating the impact," said Louw.
Food security was high on the agenda, with participants demanding one hectare of land per woman to produce crops.
Louw said during the Covid-19 hard lockdown, most seasonal farm workers were unable to work and lost their source of income.
"Most communities slowly started taking pieces of unused state land and planted crops, particularly in the Cape Winelands where large pieces of land stand empty," Louw said.
It was such pieces of land that the farm workers wanted to engage Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille on.
"We would like her to release some pieces of land to accelerate access to land for women for agricultural purposes. We are pleased that she has now opened a door for such engagement," added Louw.
After 16 years of working on a farm in Simondium near Franschhoek, land activist Jo-Anne Proper found herself without a job during Covid-19 lockdown last year.
Proper identified a piece of land on the farm which was not "being used" and planted vegetables.
"I can now feed my family and the community," said Prosper.
She urged De Lille to release land specifically for women to help end poverty, hunger and Gender-Based Violence.
Addressing the conference, De Lille, said the government had to accelerate land redistribution as the land belonged to the public.
"I have the mandate to increase the pool available for land reform. Seven of the 125 pieces of land identified so far are in the Western Cape in areas including Atlantis, George and Oudtshoorn," she said.
However, she said it was the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) that was responsible for ensuring that the released land for agricultural purposes was accessed by women.
De Lille said her department was willing to engage the women in "monthly forum meetings" to discuss ways in which they could access "opportunities".
She also said that the target set for this financial year was to release more than 10 951 hectares of land for human settlement purposes.
De Lille criticised municipalities for disposing of public land for commercial purposes only, when it could also be used to benefit non-governmental and non-profit organisations.
"Women need access to land and we need to set clear targets each financial year. I want to engage on specifics," she said.
The Rural Women's Assembly has embarked on a campaign, One Woman, One Hectare, calling on the government to speed up the process of land reform and to prioritise access to land for women.
The organisation's demands include the introduction of legislation to guide land reform, transparency on the availability of public land, expropriation of farmland and to be included in decision-making processes.
"The land we demand is for poor women, producers, backyarders, fishers, farm dwellers and farmworkers,“ the Assembly said.
"Rural women can feed themselves. Give us access to the resources we need for making these processes take place," the organisation added.