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Rural African women become farmers with MIC’s Mkuhlu

Rural African women become farmers with MIC’s Mkuhlu

Feb 23, 2015

Rural African women with no hope of work are fast discovering they can grow their own jobs from the ground up, creating mini-businesses in the process.

They are emerging as star performers in a programme of enterprise incubation down on the farm championed by the Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), an empowerment investor on a mission to assist impoverished rural areas that traditionally sent labour to the mines.

To date, three women farmers are active on MIC-assisted farms, with more to come.

All have moved from subsistence farming to commercial vegetable cultivation – often making better progress than their male counterparts.

First in the ‘crop’ is widow Alice Mkhatshwa, a contributor to MIC’s Mkuhlu project near Hazyview.

She had already proved her farming potential when she enrolled into the MIC project in 2012. Help from MIC and collaborators such as the JD Group enabled her to make the transition from simply feeding her family to harvesting commercial returns.

Says Mrs Mkhatshwa: “I was born on a farm and married a farmer, but my Amos died in 2007. With my husband gone, I had to put food on the table. I started growing vegetables in my yard. We built up from there.”

The new widow had to provide for two daughters and two grandchildren.

“We followed the old ways and used furrow irrigation,” she says. “Then MIC helped us. They changed us to drip irrigation. It’s cheap and you grow more. With MIC’s help we installed electricity and got an electric pump. That made a big difference.”

Mkhatswa is assisted by MIC’s second woman farmer – her daughter Eunice Khoza. She matriculated at Chayaza High School in Mkhuhlu and dreamt of a career as a tour guide. But the family could not afford to send her to college. Eunice became a farmer instead.

She says: “Now I’ve started farming I don’t want to stop. My new dream is to be a commercial farmer.

“MIC has shown us you can make money and grow your farm. We do make profit. Before, my mother could feed her grandchildren with our vegetables. Now she feeds the children and buys them new clothes. You can lose crops. We lost our butternuts. But if you work hard you still make profit.”

Eunice advocates a large-scale return to the land and jobs growth via farm-based enterprise development – a strategic objective long pursued by MIC.

She says: “Girls leave home, go to town and sleep in the streets. There are no jobs. Still they go. It’s better to farm your own land. I wanted to be a tour guide. Now I’m excited to be a farmer.”

Her success provokes mixed reaction from male colleagues on the MIC project. “Some are envious,” she notes. “They say ‘these women can’t beat us’. It only makes us more determined. I like competition. I want to be the best. But not all men are envious. Some see the crops we bring in and ask my advice.

“I tell them it’s no secret. You just work hard.”

MIC’s Mkuhlu project accommodates 10 farmers at various stages of transition to commercial operations. MIC and its collaborators help with capital equipment, training in farming and irrigation techniques and provision of fertiliser, chemicals, seedlings and other inputs.

Relationships with Shoprite’s fresh produce subsidiary Freshmark create market access, enabling proficient small-scale farmers to make steady profits.

As farmers become self-sufficient, MIC tapers off its assistance and moves its rural ED engine to other areas.

The concept is now gaining traction in Thomo near Giyani, Limpopo – this time in partnership with the Department of Rural Development.

An early recruit here is a grandmother in her 60s, Maria Bilankulu. She works her farm along with 27-year-old grandson, Thembane.

Bilankulu says: “I was born into a big family. We always farmed. I had some ground with two boreholes and electricity. Then we started with MIC. They brought in drip irrigation and helped with seedlings, fertiliser and chemicals.

“Now my grandson has learned to plough with the tractor. He won’t let me do heavy work, but I still help and clear the ground. I’m proud of him and encourage him to learn more and more.”

Thembane believes putting more land to the plough is the road to commercial success. He says: “We’re already making money, but you must use it wisely. You can’t rely on someone to give you a job. But work the land, use the money well and you make your own job and build your own business.”

MIC’s rural job creation and enterprise development model is now rolling out to the Modjadji Valley, near Tzaneen. Project candidates are still being assessed.

Oren Fuchs, MIC senior manager in charge of farm-focused ED, comments: “The system can be applied in numerous areas.

“When we interview candidates we ensure women are not excluded. They work every bit as hard as the men and rapidly apply what they’ve learned. We’ve seen this at Mkhuhlu and Thomo. I’m sure we’ll see the same at Modjadji.”

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