Women shoulder the burden of hunger and food insecurity in families.
A woman is often stripped of the dignity of her motherhood when she fails to feed her hungry children, when she watches them starve, hungry herself.
The years of little rains have brought untold suffering to communities, with crops failing year after year.
The rains that fell during the week chronicled the beginning of the cropping season for some, bringing hope.
Seed shops were busy with shoppers, although the price of seed maize has shot up, beyond the reach of many.
The agricultural space is fraught with inequality, yet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 alludes to reducing inequality within the agro space.
While inequalities in agriculture are ever glaring for all to see, this year is different as most people will not worry about too many costly inputs such as ox-drawn ploughs for cultivation, among other things.
With the ongoing Government project supporting zero tillage farming also known as Intwasa/Pfumvudza, the dynamics of farming preparations this year have changed, as people are making minimal preparations for the cropping season, as far as resources are concerned.
The conservation agriculture programme being rolled out offers an opportunity for all farmers in all regions of Zimbabwe to improve yields and income, food security and livelihoods.
It is an approach to farming which can sustainably increase yields from cereal, legume and cash crops, enabling farmers to feed families for less.
Women, both in rural and urban set ups are instrumental in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, especially during this time when incomes have been lost owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are also instrumental in making food systems more productive and sustainable.
Most women in small-scale farming have had challenges in accessing draught power and irrigation equipment and the Intwasa programme is levelling the playing field as they will be able to make most of the minimum resources to grow crops, feed their children and their communities.
Women contribute a lot in communities as they grow food, reduce food losses, make diets more diverse and agricultural produce more marketable along the agri-food value chains.
Intwasa promotes climate proofing agriculture through the adoption of conservation farming techniques and involves the utilisation of small pieces of land and applying the correct agronomic practices for higher returns.
The country has faced erratic weather patterns over the years due to climate change which have resulted in the country experiencing food deficits.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of food insecure people in the country is expected to surge by 50 percent to 8,6 million by the end of 2020. This would constitute about 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s total population, and women and children will be most vulnerable.
This concept, which will be applied to maize, traditional grains and oil seeds is set to commercialise smallholder agriculture, where women lead.
The programme puts agriculture on a firm foundation to promote and contribute significantly to a pro-poor and inclusive economic growth trajectory.
This is expected to address the problem of low productivity, which continues to negatively affect food security in the country.
As at August 2020, more women than men had undergone training by the extension officers.
Government recently said 90 percent of its target had undergone training, with 1 623 361 smallholder farmers having been shown the ropes on Intwasa.
Women constitute 55 percent of this group, at 887 487 while men constitute 735 874 of trainees so far.
The World Bank’s climate smart agriculture investment plan outlines the role played by women and youths in agriculture and the opportunities that lay in agriculture for them to enhance their income.
If women got more support in their agricultural endeavours and were linked to proper markets, communities would have more food, their nutritional status would improve, incomes would increase, and food systems would become more efficient and sustainable.
Due to climate change and its related effects, rural women in particular are becoming more vulnerable to food insecurity and economic and environmental shocks which are affecting their livelihoods.
The Intwasa conservation farming method campaign comes at an opportune time and will give women the opportunity to produce more with less inputs.
This however should not be for the rural women only, but urban women can also practise conservation agriculture right in their backyards.
Conservation agriculture involves the practice of concurrent minimum tillage, permanent soil cover using crop residue, and crop rotation. Evidence indicates that conservation agriculture increases agricultural productivity, reduces farming labour requirements, and improves soil quality.
Reduced farming labour requirements and improved soil quality means that women can receive better yields on smaller plots of land, with less labour intensive land preparation.
Women are the hidden powerhouse in agriculture. Yet, women do not have as much access to credit and loans due to collateral issues, among other challenges they face in funding. However, while issues of funding and access to finances are being addressed by policy makers, Intwasa is extending a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of women to feed their families and their communities.
For now, communities can pray for the rains.
Women must make use of the available pieces of land they have, no matter how small, to plant something. That little bed of cabbages or sweet potatoes can feed your families for some time. It is also a dollar saved. — @andile_tshuma