Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza says the issue of women’s empowerment will be central in government policies, regulatory reform and programmatic intervention.

Addressing a virtual dialogue webinar with female farmers on Monday, Didiza acknowledged that South Africa has progressed in a number of areas to improve the position of women in society.

This includes political representation, education and health, where milestones have been made.

However, she said the country is struggling in areas of the economy.

“As a country, we are one of those who have joined the Global Coalition whose aim is to champion economic justice for women. In this regard, the issue of women’s empowerment will be central in our policies, regulatory reform and programmatic intervention.

“We will also advocate for this using the opportunity of being the Chairperson of the African Union. The question is how then we make this campaign find expression in the land and agriculture sector,” Didiza said.

Held under the theme “Realising women’s rights for an equal future”, the dialogue featured female farmers who reflected on their journey in the sector.

When assuming office as the Head of State, President Ramaphosa highlighted the importance of the agriculture and agribusiness sector.

The President also announced that, government would rapidly release agricultural state land as its contribution. This as the country still faces challenges of land inequity as a result of colonial and apartheid policies and laws.

In response to the President’s commitments, and recommendations by the Advisory Panel on Land and Agriculture, Didiza highlighted that the department has developed a Land Beneficiary Selection Policy to guide land allocation, producer support model, Agriculture and Agribusiness Master plan, Poultry and Sugar Master Plan, and developing a plan for land release.

“These are important milestones in terms of the work that has been done thus far,” Didiza said.

Challenges in accessing land

However, the Minister said the issues of access to land and financial services, amongst others, have emerged during her engagements with women in the sector.

She said that women in the various sub-sectors of agriculture have raised challenges in accessing land either for leasing, acquisition or state land, and this relates to prices that make it impossible to access.

“Applications take a long on the government’s lease program [and] the allocation is perceived to favour male farmers. Government through its programmers has not strategically targeted land according to commodities for acquisition in order to be deliberate on improving participation of women in these sectors.

“While women appreciate the support that the government is giving through Ilima/Letsema and Comprehensive Agricultural Program, these do not take multiyear support that will enable financial viability. Specific support program taking into consideration challenges that are there in the sector such as marketing and trade requirements,” the Minister said.

Issues of agriparks that the government implemented which sought to deal with mechanisation and other implements, and lack of statistical data of how many women are in the sector remain a challenge.

“Research and technology access remains a problem. Extension and advisory services are far and in- between,” Didiza said.

In addressing some of the challenges, the department had released state land with 50% being women, training for beneficiaries, and effective land reform through supporting those who had received the land.

The department has also developed a targeted program for women farmers and entrepreneurs in the space, and 40% procurement for women businesses.

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