Sweeter life for women farmers

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

Canegrowers SA recently launched a Female Farmer Network (FFN) to address the plight of women farmers in South Africa.

About 40percent of the 47000 sugar cane growers in South Africa's cane-producing areas are women.

Canegrowers SA is a national organisation representing sugar cane growers. It has conducted a survey that identified a lack of business, financial and leadership skills as precluding women from being elected into leadership positions in the sugar industry.

The survey noted that female cane growers in the sugar industry face many challenges.

Canegrowers SA spokesman Jayne Ferguson said FFN is serious about getting female sugar cane growers to focus on their leadership potential. She said the role of women in agriculture is recognised as a viable option to direct economic growth in the rural areas.

Dolly Dasa, a South Coast sugar cane grower, gained her cane-growing experience by assisting her mother on a sugar cane farm in Ndwedwe in the Midlands.

Dasa told Sowetan she understood the value of sugar cane farming because it provided an income for many. She worked as an assistant on a sugar cane farm. In 1997 she had an opportunity to lease a sugar cane farm - as part of a black economic empowerment initiative - from Illovo Sugar Limited.

"In 2001 I purchased my own farm at Umzinto. It was not easy as a black woman, and many doors were closed in my face. Despite the challenges - the drought, high production costs and other operational issues - I soldiered on. I now have my own equipment, including a tractor and farming implements," Dasa said.

She provides employment for a full-time manager and 14 seasonal labourers. She said FFN provides a good opportunity for women sugar cane growers to network and share resources and ideas.

Government has also recognised the importance of promoting participation by women in agriculture and has established the Women in Agriculture and Rural Development (Ward) whose aim is to ensure that women participate and benefit from agriculture.

Thami Zimu, a leading South Coast female sugar cane grower is the current national president of Ward.