Recently, I came across a post by Seed, a global partnership organisation that promotes entrepreneurship for sustainable development. It outlined the levels of entrepreneurship activities in 13 African countries and Malawi was ranked 11th on the list.
Having worked in the development sector, particularly promoting gender equality, I was pushed to figure out some challenges affecting rural women entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector.
In Malawi, women account for over 70 percent of the workforce in the agricultural sector.
It is ironic that most rural women farmers still face economic hardships.
In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift that motivated rural farmers to start understanding farming as a business.
This was a great opportunity to highlight the importance of gender equality in the farming business. Luckily, the term ‘entrepreneurship’ has also been trending lately.
But this term is best understood by a group of people who can read and write and make sense out of terminologies.
With most rural women farmers, what is most important is that they are able to earn a little something to keep them going whether it is a loss or profit.
Although they invest a lot of time and energy in their farms, all they count is how the proceeds of farming will help them make ends meet.
Recently, I worked on a project to empower women with modern sustainable agricultural skills so that they can produce quality and bountiful products from their farms.
I have seen how women work tirelessly to make things happen. Some wake up as early as 4am, go to the field, tend to children, do household chores and spend the whole afternoon back in the farm.
Their challenges still remain lack of access to better markets and quality farm inputs, poor management of their harvest and lack of improved agricultural skills.
Since smallholder farming is mainly associated with cash crops such as tobacco, maize, soybean, rice, beans and others, most rural women farmers involved in horticulture are not getting the attention that is needed.
They continuously grow a variety of vegetables throughout the year while contributing to consumers’ healthy diets in towns and cities through their heavy laden farming.
Unfortunately, the proceeds they get fall below the amount of work invested in growing such crops.
Perhaps that is not the kind of entrepreneurship being talked about these days.
Although the discussion of men controlling productive assets, including money and land, has been a talk for a long time, we still need to figure out how best women can really be empowered and supported to earn what they deserve.
Perhaps running entrepreneurship programmes with rural women farmers may be one way.
From my limited knowledge, their understanding of “farming as a business” is mostly being able to farm and sell.
However, the logic behind entrepreneurship is a jargon that has to be unpacked.
Yes, there are lots of development programmes empowering women economically particularly with income generating activities, which is a good thing.
However, starting from what they already know and do could potentially be another way of building their skills using the bottom up approaches.
In the long run this will give them the power to, the power within, and the power with as they develop their enterprises as women farmers.
With farming, they would not only be able to make money, but also get adequate food and be able to diversify.
May be with a lot of rural women farmers empowered in proper entrepreneurship whether as individuals or cooperatives, Malawi may rise up to be one of the countries doing well with entrepreneurial activities.