Forced to farm for free

Date: October 26, 2010
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Martha Zulu dropped out of school in 2006 when she was 17 and pregnant with her first child (she would later have three more). She then married the father, Antony Zulu, an already-married farmer from the Central Province of Zambia. Her parents had also been peasant farmers, so Zulu said it made sense that she continue doing what she had grown up knowing.

Yet for Zulu maize farming is not easy, especially because her husband makes all the decisions even though she does much of the work.

“The most challenging thing in our farming life is the dependence on manual labour because we do not have animals and other machinery to help ease our work,” said Zulu, who is the de-facto machinery on her farm. “We always wake up very early, around 5am, to go to the fields but what we gain at the end of the day is nothing… sometimes us women and children we work in the fields while it is raining while our husband who benefits more from our sweat is sleeping. There is nothing that we can do because we are dependent on him as the head of the family and he makes most of the decisions.”

Zulu said traditions in her community do not allow women to own land, which means although she does all the work, come harvest time her husband is the one who takes the fruits of her labour to the market and then pockets the earnings.

“Sometimes, he does not give us anything and tells us that the money is for buying farming inputs for the next farming season,” she said.

What this means is that Zulu and many other women in similar situations are forced to find alternative means of raising money to pay for their children’s school fees, uniforms and food for the family.

Zulu said it is one of the reasons why poverty has persisted among small-scale farmers despite bumper harvests in Zambia. She also noted that farmer families like hers are exploited when it comes to selling their products because buyers give them a raw deal.

Boswell Mwiinga, a peasant farmer and also headman in Chisamba, Central Province, said women and men peasant farmers face many problems, although women are more vulnerable because they don’t have decision-making powers.

“Women in our village face a lot of problems in that they find it difficult to get credit for purchasing farming inputs such as fertiliser, seed and other farm inputs as compared to us men. Even in situations where they may have enough inputs, land is another problem because mostly our land is owned and controlled by men who may choose either to give a woman a portion to do their farming or not,” he said.

Mwiinga lamented that because of culture, a man, as the head of the house, finds the market for the products and decides when to sell the products and how much to give to his wife (or wives).

“What I have discovered is that women will toil the land from day one until the harvest time while men will be engaged in monitoring or doing other things but when the time for selling the products comes, it is the man that will sell and get the money, sometimes without giving anything to the wives or female relatives who do the work. This is very bad because most women end up suffering,” said Mwiinga.

The International Labour Organization has noted that women in sub-Saharan Africa produce 80% of the region’s food and the International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates women make up 70% of smallholder farmers while receiving few of the benefits of their labour, or of international funding schemes.

However, it is well known that providing women with economic opportunities and allowing them access to decision-making is one way to alleviate poverty and some of the region’s other problems.

In a speech to the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals 2010, Ines Alberdi, executive director of UNIFEM, noted: “There is evidence to show that increasing women’s access to assets such as land, property, income, credit and skills training helps prevent HIV and strengthens the ability of women to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS in their households.”

In Zambia, which, according to UNAIDS, has one of the world’s most distressing HIV and AIDS epidemics; this is evidence that should not be ignored.

Alberdi also made a link between women’s empowerment and food security, noting that allowing women access to productive resources will help ensure food security in countries like Zambia.

Although the food security situation for the marketing year ending March 2010 shows a regional cereal surplus, many women like Martha Zulu, who are the majority contributors to this surplus, will continue to live in poverty until they are given this access.

Perpetual Sichikwenkwe is a writer from Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.



0 thoughts on “Forced to farm for free” says:

i’m a Zambian and an official at one of the councils. I’m privileged to sit on the board that recommend title for ownership of land, thus i feel compent to offer an opinion on acquisition of land by women. i do not quite conquer with the story on the acquisition of land by women in Zambia as women are given 50 percent gender land acquisition privileges. alot of women are beginning to acquire land but maybe i need to point out that sensitization may be required to see this bearing fruits otherwise women will always feel sidelined. i believe in equal opportunities for all, but i also believe in telling the truth. dn

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