A farmer cultivates a field with the help of new technology. Picture: 123RF/PAOLO GIANFRANCESCO
A farmer cultivates a field with the help of new technology. Picture: 123RF/PAOLO GIANFRANCESCO

Until recently maize and beans farmer To Mdluli from Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal was one of many rural women struggling to eke out a living under difficult conditions.

Now, thanks to an innovative programme which trains rural women in digital literacy, her situation has improved.

Mdluli is one of 600 small farmers from rural areas in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and the Free State provinces taking part in the training programme, a partnership initiative between the Vodacom Foundation, UN Women and farming organisation South African Women In Farming (Sawif).

“I have learnt a lot from the programme,” said Mdluli. “Even the farming methods I use now are different from those I used before.”

Mdluli initially grew maize and bean crops on her family’s plot, but now she also leases another three fields from neighbours whose land was lying fallow.

The programme was initially designed to introduce participants to the Connect Farmer app, but it was found that many participants were “digitally illiterate”, so it was changed to first teach digital literacy.

The Connected Farmer app provides real-time information on what farmers are producing and helps to ensure that they have access to input and output markets.

Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer of corporate affairs at the Vodacom Group, said similar programmes have proved successful in other emerging countries, such as Kenya.

“Our female farmer initiative shines the spotlight on emerging small-scale female farmers within the agriculture sector,”  Netshitenzhe said. “We’re confident that it will help drive development in rural areas, thereby strengthening food security, and assisting SA female farmers in claiming a stake in the agricultural sector.” 

Julia Madihlaba, who is a member of a farming co-operative from Tafelkop, near Groblersdal in Limpopo province, said the programme has helped her enormously. The six members of her co-operative are beneficiaries of a 171ha farm through the government’s land redistribution and agricultural development programme. They are producing poultry and eggs, cattle, pigs and maize.

“I would really recommend the programme because it was an eye-opener for me and other farmers,” Madihlaba said.

Deborah Motuku, president of South African Women in Farming, said the programme was a game changer for women farmers. “The digital and financial training is preparing us for bigger things and we are now confident in using digital platforms to transact, communicate and market our produce,” she said.

Vuyo Mahlati, president of the African Farmers Association of SA, said her organisation endorses the training programme because women “need to be empowered to play a meaningful role in the economy of the country and the continent”.

makhayec@businesslive.co.za
mkhizen@businesslive.co.za