Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

NO FEWER than 20,000 women took it upon themselves to march to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956 to deliver a memorandum protesting against pass laws that had, for a long time, confined them to certain areas. The move was a bold one, which would ultimately emancipate them from the cocoons in which they had been kept captive for centuries.

With the dawn of democracy, women emerged to play significant roles in different sectors, particularly in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and began taking part in ensuring food security for South Africa.

Women have become visible participants in all four pillars of food security. They have became producers of food; ensuring that their households have enough resources to obtain food in sufficient quantity, quality and diversity for a nutritious diet; they decide what food to purchase and how to prepare it as well as how to consume and allocate it within their household while at the same time making sure that the supply on household level remains constant during the year and in the long term.

The contribution of female farmers can certainly not be overlooked in family farming.

Women account for an estimated two-thirds of the world’s 600-million livestock keepers and on average contribute 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. In the least developed countries, women who are economically active report agriculture as their primary source of income, while women residing in rural areas have been engaged in some sort of agricultural activity for years — all these achievements in an industry viewed as male dominated.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Female Entrepreneur Awards programme was initiated in 1999 and is a joint venture between the department, the provinces and key partners in the sector. As the department’s mandate was expanded to include Forestry and Fisheries in 2009 there was an urgent need to reconfigure the programme to address the department’s expanded mandate.

In 2010-11 the programme assumed a new name and approach from Female Farmer of the Year Awards to Female Entrepreneur Awards. The programme has both the annual competition and development programme elements. It seeks to acknowledge, encourage and increase the participation of women, young women and women with disabilities in the sector. The major thrust of the programme is to underline the fact that women play a significant role in food security, job creation, economic growth and poverty alleviation.

The programme has a long-term aim of leveraging women entrepreneurs from being subsistence and smallholder producers to commercial entrepreneurs who also venture into export markets. The objectives of the programme are consistent with the vision of the National Development Plan which makes particular reference to the empowerment of women and their involvement in the country’s economic transformation.

The Female Entrepreneur Awards start in provinces where potential winners for different categories go through a rigorous adjudication process. Winners of provincial competitions compete at national level and are awarded for their contribution at an awards ceremony and gala dinner, which is hosted by the department in partnership with the provinces, and sponsors.

The awards ceremony takes place during Women’s Month in August to accentuate the sector’s input towards the broader gender transformation agenda of the country. The programme has for over 17 years enjoyed recognition as an empowerment initiative which fundamentally seeks to honour the efforts and contribution of women for the role they play in food security, job creation, economic growth and poverty alleviation.

To date a total of 87 women have been rewarded at national level for their efforts and contribution to the sector. The winners were awarded with prize money and the department is motivating that the substantial prize money be used towards the development of their enterprises. The winners are also exposed to local and international training and capacity-building programmes which address their needs such as financial enterprise management, AgriBiz and Making Market Matters, etc.

Some of the programme’s success stories:

Sithembile Buthelezi from KwaZulu-Natal, won Best Farm Worker in 2012 and managed to build herself a house with the winnings sponsored by Total South Africa. She has now graduated from being a farm worker to being a co-owner of a piggery project with 250 large white breeding sows and 16 boars which she acquired through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development Programme. The project won Top Entrepreneur: Small Holder at provincial level in 2014.

Makhanya Hawukile, also from KwaZulu-Natal, was crowned Best Farm Worker in 2014. She managed to build herself a house with her winnings.

Elaine Kroutz from Gauteng, winner of Top Entrepreneur: Smallholder in 2014 used her winnings to erect a shade tunnel and expand to open field production. She is proudly supplying Spar and the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market. She plans to move into processing her produce and supplying restaurants and retailers.

Ilse Anne Ruthford from the Western Cape, winner of Top Entrepreneur: Processing in 2014 has set-up a vegetable garden for the company’s workers, their families and neighbouring farms with the main aim of ensuring food security and also to involve the farm workers’ children in the project. She also channelled part of her winnings towards the studies of her farm workers’ children. She intends using the remainder of her winnings to further her studies.

Thandi Cynthia Mokwena, Top Entrepreneur: Commercial 2013 from Mpumalanga, who has been exporting her bananas to China will be exporting her first bunch of bananas to Oman by the end of August. She envisages sending about 500 tonnes of bananas.

Thandeka Moseki, who won 2014 Best Subsistence producer from North West, managed to renovate the inside of her farm house, bought production inputs and now farms on a larger scale. She opened a farm store selling essentials from groceries to vegetables as there were no shops nearby for the farm workers. She also bought herself a bakkie which she uses to transport her produce to local shops. She has adopted a crèche of 30 children in a nearby settlement and supplies the crèche with food from the shop.

Mponeng Lentoro from Free State, Top Entrepreneur: Commercial 2014, used her winnings from Total to plant 25ha of white maize under irrigation and harvested 8 tonnes a hectare, and under dry land she harvested 1,195 tonnes and also bought a bakkie for farm use.

Ivy Nokwanele Mzamo, Top Entrepreneur: Export Markets 2014 and the programme’s overall winner, is from the Eastern Cape and invested some of her winnings in a JCB machine which was worth R680,000. The project has now been extended and has just planted 14ha with a new variety of citrus fruit. She recently started to export citrus to Japan in addition to the Middle East, Europe, UK, Russia, Canada and China.

Nompumelelo Mdlalose from Gauteng won the Top Entrepreneur: Small Holder. The young entrepreneur has now signed an offer to purchase a piece of land using all the winnings from the competition as the organisation is currently operating on leased land.

Through the department’s Female Entrepreneur Awards annual event, the department will continue the campaign of recognising and empowering women as contributors to food security and agricultural development.

• Maroo is spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.