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By 21 August 2019 | Categories: news

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This week, Vodacom Foundation, in partnership with UN Women and South African Women in Farming (SAWIF) formally launched the Women Farmers Programme countrywide at The Capital on The Park Hotel, Sandton. This follows the successful pilot of the programme since its introduction in 2018 which saw over 600 women small-holder farmers in rural areas of Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal provinces trained in Digital Literacy, so they can take full advantage of the economic benefits offered by the Digital Revolution and successfully participate in the agricultural value chain.

Aimed at transforming the face of South Africa’s smallholder agricultural segment to reflect all citizens of the country and create a more inclusive agricultural economy for women who come from poor communities, the Women Farmers Programme equips women, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, with the digital skills for today’s digital economy to meaningfully participate in the mainstream economy.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries stated that the value of agriculture production in South Africa increased by 4.7% and was estimated at R281 370 million in 2017/18, while its contribution to the GDP was estimated to be R90 458 million at nominal prices in 2017.

Farming matters

Despite its relatively small share of total GDP, primary agriculture is an important sector in the country’s economy as it remains a significant provider of employment, particularly in rural areas. It is especially important today to grow this sector in order to increase employment in these areas as the country is facing its worst unemployment rates since the global financial crisis in 2008, with unemployment at 29%.

“At Vodacom, we are committed to empowering women to reach their full potential and the Women Farmers programme is a direct manifestation of this commitment,” commented Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer: Corporate Affairs for Vodacom Group. “With this initiative we will be able to support female farmers in staking their claim in the agriculture sector through the use of technology, which in turn can help to reduce poverty, ensure food security and boost the industry’s contribution to the economy.

“A study by the World Economic Forum shows that women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70% of Africa’s food. While some research shows that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase the yields of farms by 20%-30% and reduce hunger by up to 17%. As it can be seen, women are playing an active role in food production chain and our main objective with this programme, is to provide them with the necessary tools, so that more and more women can enter the lucrative sector and be part of the agriculture food supply chain and reap the economic benefits,” she continued

UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office Représentative, Anne Githuku-Shongwe added that investing in women farmers has the potential to unlock economic growth. "We know that globally women make up the majority of women small-holder farmers and if women had access to the same resources as men, they would increase their output by 30%. Gender inequality in the agricultural sector is effectively depriving the industry of the benefits that come from women participating equally in the sector including food security, job creation and income generation.”

“We are glad that the Vodacom Foundation has come on board to provide critical digital literacy skills training and ICT equipment to women farmers. This partnership together with the World Food Programme and SAWIF is an important step in ensuring that women farmers, particularly small-holder farmers in rural areas are equipped with the tools and knowledge to successfully participate in the agricultural value chain,” she noted.

How it works

The programme, created in partnership with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and SAWIF, leverages Vodacom’s ICT capabilities to train women from rural areas in digital literacy to enable them to use technology to connect to more opportunities.

Following this, these female farmers are then able to participate in the second phase of the programme which will connect small scale farmers across the agricultural value chain to enterprises and potential suppliers looking to source agricultural goods, such as crops and livestock, by registering on Vodacom’s Connected Farmer app.

The Connected Farmer App not only provides live, real-time information on what farmers are producing in which regions, but will also help to ensure that small scale female farmers participating in the programme have access to input and output markets – a key requirement for the transformation of smallholder farmers to commercial production – and are able to meet the conditions of retailers.

Four phases of progress

The app, which was introduced in 2016 by the enterprise business, is being customized to meet the needs of the women farmers and is implemented in four phases. The first phase is providing digital literacy to the farmers to prepare them for the use of the App. The second phase would be to digitize the SAWIF Women farmers’ database and to connect the farmers with the retailers.

The next phase would be to minimize the role of SAWIF by giving the women direct access to the markets. The last phase would be to integrate Vodacom’s financial services offerings. With these suite of services, the women will have a wider choice to transact and to be empowered through technology. The app will ensure that women in small scale farming are not left behind in the digital era.

“At SAWIF we are eager to see women play a central role in the agriculture value chain and supply our produce to both the local and international markets. Since we partnered with Vodacom and UN Women we feel very confident that we will achieve our dreams,” enthused Deborah Motuku, President of SAWIF.

“The Digital and financial training from Vodacom is preparing us for bigger things and we are now confident in using digital platforms to transact, communicate and market our produce. We are grateful for all that Vodacom has and still going to do for us. We wait in anticipation for the Connected Farmer App which will offer us a bigger suite of services and open up markets for our produce,” she concluded.

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