Helping more tobacco farmers participate in commercial agriculture - Interview with Kitti, founder of the Zimbabwe Integrated Commercial Farmers Union

Helping more tobacco farmers participate in commercial agriculture - Interview with Kitti, founder of the Zimbabwe Integrated Commercial Farmers Union

In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 60% of women are engaged in agricultural production activities. However, because most women lack experience in land management and lack financing opportunities, they do not have an advantage over men in agricultural operations and are excluded from important links in the agricultural value chain.

Desire to fully penetrate the agricultural value chain

Zimbabwe is no exception. Today, Zimbabwe's tobacco production is still dominated by small-scale tobacco farmers, and tobacco accounts for about 40% of the country's total export products. According to the Borgen Project, approximately 72% of the country's population lives in chronic poverty, with 84% of these people living in remote rural areas. Zimbabwe has yet to recover from the 2008 economic crisis, and gross domestic product has been declining since 2013, partly due to delayed investment, while adverse weather conditions have also hurt agriculture.

Mayiwepi Jiti, founder and chairperson of the Zimbabwe Integrated Commercial Farmers Union (ZICFU), explained: “In recent years, Zimbabwean women have continued to play an important role in revitalizing the country’s agricultural industry. A critical role." As a successful commercial farmer, Kitty's commercial farm currently employs over 200 permanent and seasonal workers. In the agricultural field of Zimbabwe, she is an extremely rare strong woman.

Kitty said: "Women have had a positive effect on the country's economy. However, despite Zimbabwe's call for women to actively participate in the country's economic construction, there are no policies to promote gender equality in the agricultural sector. The government's plan to adjust the legal framework is still in progress, and it is hoped that This framework ensures that women and men have equal opportunities."

Before the country's land reform in 1999, in Zimbabwe's commercial farming system, no single woman could own her own commercial farm. Things gradually began to change starting in 2000, when the government redistributed land to correct the imbalance in land ownership and a small number of Zimbabwean women acquired land and became commercial farmers. Due to a lack of agricultural financing, the country has introduced contract farming as a temporary solution, but the current situation is still disadvantageous for women.

Tobacco sales revenue accounts for approximately 10.7% of Zimbabwe's GDP. There are still more than 110,000 small-scale tobacco farmers, 39.5% of whom are women. The increase in the number of single mothers has led to the growth of the number of small-scale tobacco farmers. Giti pointed out that in the field of tobacco cultivation, women are regarded as equal groups when selling tobacco at tobacco auctions, but they have not yet fully penetrated into all stages of the tobacco value chain, and they are very vocal in participating in decision-making on financial issues. difficulty.

Become a successful export businessman

After her husband passed away suddenly in 2014, Kitty took over the family farm and faced many pressures and challenges. There are twin children to take care of, and more than 300 farm workers waiting to be assigned work and paid.

"When I went to get a loan, the bank shunned me because I was a woman, thinking women were lenders who couldn't fulfill their obligations," said Kitty. Kitty is a trained primary school teacher with a farming background and knowledge of agriculture. Producing is a passion and working on the farm was not difficult for her. While the husband was still alive, they began building a dam for irrigation. After her husband's death, banks immediately stopped funding the project. "They asked me to repay the money I had borrowed because they thought it would be impossible for me to complete the construction of the dam," Kitty said.

However, without a bank loan, Kitty managed to build the dam, only with a capacity reduced to 75% of the original plan. Today, Giti cultivates 80 hectares of tobacco, 50 hectares of corn and 50 hectares of wheat. Most of the workers she employs live on the farm, in separate houses with electricity and clean water.

Kitty said exporting is not an attractive business area for small-scale farmers who are relatively uninformed. But Kitty not only managed to take care of her growing family, she also managed to break into the fruit and vegetable export business to Europe and won an international gold medal for her quality produce.

According to Kitty, female entrepreneurs are under the pressure of social expectations, plus most women don't have access to financing. "If there is a government guarantee, banks must treat women equally and give them fair access to financing," Kitty said.

Giti cited other problems, such as institutional bottlenecks in export licenses and the problem of middlemen in the tobacco industry, who buy farmers' tobacco leaves at low prices and then sell them at a significant markup, disrupting the market. She believes contract farming has had a positive impact on most Zimbabwean women. Contract tobacco is generally sold in the auction hall. According to current tobacco sales regulations, tobacco farmers are paid 60% of their income from cigarette sales in U.S. dollars, and the remaining 40% in Zimbabwean currency. Kitty said: "It is regrettable that many farmers in Zimbabwe cannot participate in labor-intensive agricultural production and profitable export business. I think contract farming is the way forward, at least for now. It is feasible. Contract farming has been It has proven to be very beneficial for most women. Therefore, I think if the relevant government departments support it, it will promote the active participation of most women in intensive agricultural production."

Advocate for positive changes in agricultural production

Giti formed ZICFU in 2018 and served as vice president. Later, it faced a challenge from the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU). ZCFU serves a small number of individuals and satisfies the interests of alliance members by distributing farmers’ labor income.

"The fact that a woman formed ZICFU put pressure on the male-dominated ZCFU, who saw this as a direct challenge to their alliance and were afraid of competition because they were quite aware of the influence that female leaders could demonstrate." "The ZCFU leadership knows very little about agricultural production, which makes them very passive leaders," Guidi said.

ZICFU provides farmers with network support to ensure that they have access to many resources, skills training, etc., so that they can effectively utilize the land and have the ability to sell their products. The agricultural projects covered by this organization include subsistence farming, as well as dairy farming, ranching, poultry farming, etc. ZICFU has established close collaborative relationships between farmers and other organizations.

Because irrigation equipment is expensive, small and medium-sized Zimbabwean farmers tend to produce only drought-tolerant crops, which have low yields. Giti said most small-scale farmers rely on government-issued means of production and cannot encourage them to expand production. Moreover, when receiving free means of production, some farmers sold them to meet urgent family needs. In the eyes of bank borrowers, this practice is an act that damages credit. In addition, the interest rates charged by lenders (people) are ridiculously high, leaving farmers permanently in debt.

To cope with this, more dams must be built. Kitty said: "The Zimbabwean government also needs to continue to provide subsidies to those respectable people to help them enter the commercial agriculture field and afford irrigation equipment and other production materials. The government should provide targeted assistance to them so that their Agricultural products going to the international market earn foreign exchange for the country.”

Giti believes that education and training for farmers must be strengthened to make them aware of the importance of transitioning from subsistence to commercial farming, especially the importance of complying with credit arrangements. "For farmers with sustainable development capabilities, banks should charge reasonable interest rates," Gitty said.

ZICFU formed an organization to advocate for positive changes in agricultural production. Kitty said: "Our goals mainly focus on agricultural reform, paying attention to the voices of women and empowering them. In addition, ZICFU also educates and guides tobacco farmers to become self-reliant, abandon the habit of relying solely on government support, and actively embrace the digital world. Therefore, We intend to hold more promotional activities for Zimbabwean farmers from all aspects to help them transition from small-scale farming to commercial agriculture and make their development transition consistent with Zimbabwe’s economic development blueprint.”
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