Rural development

Rural development

  • Eastern Cape Sustainable Rural Development Needs Multi-Faceted Intervention

    Sustainable rural development in the Eastern Cape would need a package of interventions if real local economic opportunities for rural communities were to be created.

    This was the combined message from three speakers at a seminar hosted by the European Union and Office of the Premier-funded Sustainable Rural Development in the Eastern Cape (SURUDEC) and its local implementing agent, RuLiv in East London in April 2012.

    Entitled ‘Rural Livelihoods and Development Planning: Experiences from the Eastern Cape’, the seminar heard presentations from the Eastern Cape Social and Economic Consultative Council (ECSECC), the Agricultural extension department of the University of Fort Hare and from SURUDEC.

    Most of the opportunities probably lay in the agro-processing sector according to ECSECC's CEO, Andrew Murray.

    He added that as agriculture contributed a mere 2.6 percent to the provincial gross domestic product (GDP), beneficiation and value chains needed to be explored and would probably be the sector where most jobs could be created.

    One possible strategy was aggregating micro-projects with a focus on value chain multipliers, but Murray cautioned that producers had to produce the right product at the right time within a market system.

    “It’s important to link micro-projects with manufacturing at scale, this needs to be a costed instrument and we have been too slow in getting it right – this needs to be speeded up”.

    “Values have to be shared; it is no good squeezing small producers on one end of the scale while manufacturers take home huge revenues.”

    Training and learning incubators were also important as making land more productive was a lengthy process and consisted of more than mere access to land. Capital, knowledge and skills together with labour were also needed.

    On training, Murray’s view was echoed by Professor Francois Lategan of the Agricultural Extension department at the University of Fort Hare who added that past training of agricultural extension officers had failed and that today’s students needed training in a multiplicity of skills in order to equip them for the job.

    This included entrepreneurial skills, innovation and understanding markets. he most crucial skill was the ability to identify opportunities and act on them.

    “We lack a message or a workable model for small scale farmers but the message needs to include instilling an entrepreneurial slant.

    “Farmers, big and small, need to be shown how to recognise opportunities to make money,” he concluded.

    SURUDEC programme coordinator, Dr Stephen Atkins, outlined SURUDEC’s asset-based approach to development which included recognition that communities employed multiple livelihood strategies and that local conditions determined responses and interventions.

    An example was one SURUDEC-funded project in the Indwe area, a large farm obtained through a restitution award in 2001. While the farm co-operative had R70 000 in its bank account and was now valued at R10 million, the enterprise could potentially earn a net profit of R600 000 a year while employing 20 people full time.

    However, currently additional enterprise and employment generating options were not being considered and Atkins pointed to potential rental accrued from a cell phone mast which was not being collected by the enterprise.

    “The business is in a fragile state and long term plans need to be made by all stakeholders for sustainability of the enterprise,” he added.

    The second case study was of an ecotourism development initiative at Cata, near Keiskammahoek in which existing and new birding hiking trails were refurbished and developed, a community institution was set up and given business skills training and marketing material had been produced. In addition, the project dovetailed well with previous community development initiatives.

    Atkins concluded with some of the lessons coming out of the SURUDEC programme in the Eastern Cape which included:

    • It was vital that robust and accurate data support rural development actions;
    • It was important to know the area and know the people concerned;
    • Possibilities and the challenges needed to be identified;
    • Being realistic of the scale and scope of the intervention was needed from the beginning;
    • It was important to identify the resources required to undertake an action and to budget correctly;
    • Time frames or horizons needed constant monitoring and management;
    • Building capacity over time and planning for support and mentoring was an integral part of any intervention and must be planned and budgeted for;
    • The prioritisation of options needed to be managed constantly;
    • It was important to network with relevant practitioners.
    SURUDEC is a joint programme of the European Union and Republic of South Africa. The Contracting Authority is the Eastern Cape Office of the Premier (OTP) and the Implementing Agent is Promoting Rural and Urban Livelihoods (Ruliv), based in East London.

    SURUDEC aims to reduce poverty in the province by providing grant funding to support the design and implementation of integrated community-driven development plans (ICDPs). These are plans of action that indicate ways in which the economic situation of a community will be improved and how its asset base will grow over time. These plans would inform district and local government IDPs, and importantly, over time and as resources become available, elements of each community plan would be implemented, either directly from community resources, or in combination with funds from partners, donors or Government.

    - Barbara Manning is the Visibility and Communications Coordinator (SURUDEC) within Ruliv.

  • Food Security Threatened by Population Growth

    Food security concerns cannot be addressed without tackling population growth.

    Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, commented, "We are right to worry about how we are going to meet the future demand for food in a more-crowded world. But simply addressing supply will never be enough. We need also to address demand - by encouraging a more sustainable way of life, including smaller families.

    The report on food security issued this week by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons concluded that:

    "The UK [United Kingdom] currently enjoys a high level of food security, but this situation will not last unless the government plans now for future changes in our weather patterns and the changing global demand for food...the UK's self-sufficiency for food that can be grown domestically (already) has fallen from 87 per cent to 68 per cent in 20 years."

    The report focuses on food production, supply and the systems necessary to ensure our food security in the future and highlights some examples of good practice and how the government and food producers could plan for projected changes to make our food production and supply systems more secure.

    Simon Ross continued, "Planning improvements to food supply in response to an increasingly hot and crowded world make sense. However, the committee perhaps felt ill-qualified to comment on Britain's rapid population growth, which is running at around four million every decade - much higher than other European countries.

    "This is of course a global issue rather than being limited to one country. If we are serious about addressing food security in the face of climate change and rising per capita consumption in industrialising nations, we should seek to stabilise human numbers by promoting smaller families and balanced migration flows."


    About Population Matters

    Population Matters is the UK’s leading body campaigning for sustainable populations in the UK and abroad. We conduct education, research and advocacy on the environmental impact of population size. Population Matters is the working name of the Optimum Population Trust.
    For further information contact:
    Simon Ross
    Tel: 020 8123 9353

    For more about Population Matters, refer to

    To view other NGO press releases, refer to

    Date published: 
    Population Matters
  • SANGONeT ICT4RD Conference 2011 - “Rural Realities, Real Solutions”

    Over three quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas. They often lack economic opportunities, have difficulty accessing basic services, have limited voice in governance and remain extremely vulnerable to shocks.

    How can development practice and approaches address these issues within the current financial constraints facing national budgets and donor funding? What are the new, innovative - and more cost effective - solutions and applications available to respond to rural development challenges in Africa and other parts of the developing world in a meaningful manner?

    The 7th Annual SANGONeT "ICTs for Civil Society" Conference, to be held from 1-3 November 2011 at the Wanderers Club in Illovo, Johannesburg, will focus on information communication technologies for rural development (ICT4RD) under the theme “Rural Realities, Real Solutions”.

    ICT4RD 2011 posits that part of the answer to the questions listed above will rely on new technologies - technologies like mobile phones - with coverage already reaching further than roads, electricity, sanitation and clean water.

    ICT4RD 2011 is the first African conference to apply these emerging technologies and practices to rural development, and will provide new thought leadership at a moment in time when the development sector is poised for innovation and change.

    ICT4RD 2011 will bring together 250-300 experts and practitioners - from government, NGOs, donor community, ICT sector, social entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholder groups - from across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, to confront the realities of rural development and explore the innovative use of ICTs to catalyze the growth of ICT4RD solutions for scale.

    For more about ICT4RD 2011 and to register, refer to

    Follow updates about the event on Facebook, or Twitter, or by replying to

    SANGONeT Conference Team
    August 2011

    Related article:

    There's Not an App for That
  • Call to Involve NGOs in Allocation of Land

    The Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has warned CSOs implementing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) pilot projects have asked the government to engage the villagers before allocating land to investors.

    The group’s executive director, Charles Meshack, points out that this will help the villagers to have ownership over the carbon benefits derived from reduced deforestation on their land.

    He adds: "Classifying forests on village land as general land could encourage village land grabbing by unprincipled elite or investors or even transfer of REDD benefits from villages who are reducing deforestation to the government or private sector."

    To read the article titled, “Involve locals in allocation of land – CSOs,” click here.
    All Africa
  • Emerging Farmers Kept Off Municipal Commonage Land for the Benefit of White Commercial Farmers

    Small scale farmers on commonage land owned by the Hantam Municipality are up in arms about the awarding of a tender by the Hantam Municipality of Brandvlei. The tender committee of the municipality decided to disadvantage emerging farmers currently on the commonage land in order to benefit white commercial farmers. According to the minutes of the tender committee meeting of 29 September 2010 emerging farmers will only be allowed on commonage land if they farm together with white commercial farmers.
    An example of this is the farm Driekop. The tender was awarded to M Kastoor (emerging farmer) on condition that she farms together with a white commercial farmer. Another example is the farm Remhoogte. It was awarded to two emerging women farmers on condition that they farm jointly with a disabled white commercial farmer.
    Appeals for an urgent meeting about this issue were made to the Hantam Municipality by emerging farmers in the Regional Emerging Farmers Association and the Food Sovereignty Campaign.
    As the Food Sovereignty Campaign we will resist these actions of the municipality that want to reinstate Apartheid in the region. We will evict commercial farmers from the commonage land.
    For more information contact:
    Rosina Secondt (task team convener)
    073 2822465
    Patrick Steenkamp (Hantam task team representative)
    083 528766 
    Katharina Demas  (Hantam task team representative)
    083 4597885
    Date published: 
    Food Sovereignty Campaign
  • Unemployment and the Rights of Workers

    The most important, single issue facing government today is improving conditions for greater labour absorption.

    The South African Bill of Rights says, “Every citizen has the right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely.” But local laws and institutions do not fully support that right, and one consequence is our staggering unemployment rate.

    The results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), recently published by Statistics South Africa, revealed some alarming labour market trends. According to the strict definition, the unemployment rate increased from 24.3 percent (4.165 million) in the last quarter of 2009 to 25.2 percent (4.310 million) in the first three months of 2010 – a loss of 145 000 jobs. When the first quarter of 2010 is compared to that of 2009, if we include discouraged work seekers who have given up searching for work because they believe there is none available, the unemployment rate increases from 28.4 percent (5.4 million) to 32.4 percent (6.1 million) unemployed people.

    This paints a very bleak picture indeed.

    To make matters worse, these employment figures are at odds with the growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) – 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 1.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. And, according to the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES), gross labour earnings paid to employees in the formal non-agricultural sector in the first quarter of 2010, was 11.7 percent more than in the first quarter of 2009. Therefore, on average, for those with jobs in South Africa, things got a whole lot better despite almost a million losing theirs in 2009.

    A further worrying concern is that, of the unemployed, 63.5 percent have been out of a job for longer than a year, and the majority are young with limited education and other skills. If the low end of the labour market were allowed to function unhindered, young and unskilled people would not have such a desperate struggle to get onto the first rung of the employment ladder. Without doubt, the already employed will protest that any weakening of job-security legislation or erosion of minimum wages will lead to increased poverty. Studies have shown that unemployment is a significant driver of poverty, so how can we close our eyes to it.

    Often ignored is that worker productivity is the main determinant of what employers are willing to pay, and a legislated increase in the price of labour does not increase worker productivity. According to fundamental economic logic, if a minimum wage of R2 000 per month can improve conditions for workers, then one of R20 000 per month should improve conditions even more. But, obviously, a minimum of R20 000 would render more people unemployable. People who do not get jobs as a result of such legislation are unseen victims while those who can clearly be seen to lose jobs are only too visible.

    Claire Bisseker states in an article (Financial Mail, 25 June 2010) that, “There are 387 manufacturers that have refused despite an exhaustive legal process by the clothing industry national bargaining council, to honour minimum wages and conditions of employment.” She reveals that a total of 43 percent of clothing manufacturers in the country are not complying with minimum wage legislation. The clothing industry national bargaining council is currently sitting on execution orders against the first 70 firms that have failed to meet their regulatory obligations, which, if carried out, could result in about 4 000 workers losing their jobs. I know that if I were one of these 4 000 individuals facing unemployment, I would certainly be against the carrying out of the execution orders.

    Bisseker sums up the situation succinctly, “The standoff in the clothing industry forces a choice to be made between upholding decent working standards and making thousands of people redundant in the middle of winter”. So, at the heart of the matter is the African National Congress’ policy of ‘the creation of decent work’. The small firms that ‘refuse to honour minimum wages and conditions of employment’ do not do so out of pure cussedness or because they are mean but because they cannot afford to pay the higher costs. But, who gets to decide what is ‘decent work’? Despite all statistics, if you were the one unemployed, so that, as far as you are concerned, the rate of unemployment is 100 percent, surely you would want to have the right to decide for yourself what constitutes ‘decent work’.

    Employees do not happily work under trying conditions for extremely low wages because they prefer such jobs to better paying and more attractive ones. They take such jobs because, at the time, it is their only chance to earn the money they need to support their families. Their choice is often between a poorly paid, unpleasant job, and starvation for their families and themselves.

    A significant and laudable factor that emerges from Bissiker’s article is that it was the South Africa Clothing and Allied Workers’ Union (SACTWU) that asked for the writs of execution to be delayed to “explore further avenues”. The spokesperson for the Apparel Manufacturers of South Africa (AMSA) was more uncompromising. According to Ms Bissiker he said that, “they don’t want to shut companies down either but neither can the status quo be allowed to continue, simply to save jobs”.  Do AMSA and SACTWU truly believe that the workers will be better off unemployed than in jobs that, in their view, are not “decent”? Will they support the families of the unemployed workers who lose their jobs because of these actions? Self-interest is usually buried in such strange logic.

    Other manufacturers will benefit if the 387 firms can be knocked out of the competition, but the self-interest of the labour union seems more obscure. Is it in the interests of SACTWU members for their union to be a party to making first 4,000 and later even more workers unemployed? Labour unions are supposed to look after the interests of their members, a task they perform with vigour. It is not their responsibility to solve the country’s socio-economic problems. That is the task of government.

    The most important, single issue facing government today is improving conditions for greater labour absorption. For government to achieve its stated objective of reducing unemployment and stimulating growth, it has to urgently address labour market policies and laws that exacerbate unemployment, such as those that abridge the constitutional and human rights of garment manufacturing workers, and threaten to imminently make thousands of them unemployed.

    - Jasson Urbach is an economist at the Free Market Foundation. This article first appeared in the Tshikululu Social Investments’ (TSI) Thought Leadership. It is republished here with the permission of TSI.
    Jasson Urbach
  • A Culture in Crisis – Reading in Post-Apartheid South Africa

    It is now commonly accepted that there is a deep crisis regarding the ‘culture of reading” in South Africa. Only a very small section of the public reads and buys books, there is a virtual collapse of library services, and publishing in black languages continues to struggle 16 years after the end of apartheid.

    The indices of this crisis are equally well-known:
    • Only a very small section of the public reads and buys books – both for leisure (fiction) and self-education or self-advancement (non-fiction)
    • Public libraries have been in long-term decline, and school libraries are just about non-existent
    • Although a large part of young South Africans go through the schooling system, it is also commonly accepted that their reading and numeracy skills are very low – lagging behind that of their counterparts in the sub-region 
    Sources of the crisis

    In many discussions of the crisis of the ‘culture of reading’ one key explanatory factor stands out: the legacy of apartheid. Apartheid, quite rightly, is an important factor in accounting for the state of literature in black languages, in the literacy levels among the adult population of South Africa, and indeed in the class structure that still sees the majority of South Africans trapped in poverty. But it has been 16 years after the end of official apartheid and smaller countries in the South African Development Community (SADC) region, with much less resources, register better reading and numeracy skills than young people in South Africa. Cuba, with equally limited resources, was able to raise the standard of reading and wipe out illiteracy in a few years. So why does a crisis in the culture of reading persist so stubbornly 16 years after the end of apartheid?

    The GEAR

    Two other factors account for the persistence of this crisis.

    Firstly, the democratic government of the post-1994 period made a number of policy choices that have proved fatal for the development of a culture of reading. Basically, the fundamental policy choice made by the post-apartheid government was to choose a market-driven path to economic and social development in South Africa. This path was captured most dramatically by the adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy in 1996, and the closure of the RDP office soon thereafter. GEAR, however, is not just an ‘economic’ policy: it is a holistic political, social and economic policy. Over the last 14-odd years, the consequences have been profound:
    • South Africa today is the most unequal society in the world. Markets reinforce, and do not overcome, inequality
    • Almost half the population lives below the poverty line, and about 40 percent of men and women of working age are unemployed. The majority of unemployed are youth, who are the natural target audience for a broad-based culture of reading
    • Starved of resources, the ‘social infrastructure of reading’ in many townships has been under severe stress and in most cases has virtually collapsed
    This ‘social infrastructure of reading’ refers to the quality of people’s general standard of living. This includes, among other items, libraries, schools, colleges, universities, book stores and spaces created for leisure. This includes well-resourced (with books and literacy promoting programmes) kindergartens during childhood, youth leisure and recreation centres, access to good lighting in the home (electricity) and adequate spacious housing. (For instance, an RDP house does not provide space for leisure.) A transport infrastructure that is extensive and cheap enough to encourage social interaction lies at the heart of a culture of reading. A transport infrastructure enables a township resident to attend a poetry reading, a book club, a literary festival in another part of the city or country, and so on.

    Given these conditions, it is no wonder that the majority of South African do not read, or cannot read. It is not difficult to see or to demonstrate the correlation between levels of inequality and a low culture of reading in a country. Countries with high levels of inequality have a low culture of reading, and vice versa: countries with a more equal society will show a higher culture of reading.

    Structure of Publishing

    The second factor that accounts for this crisis in the culture of reading is the structure of the publishing industry itself. In many debates on the culture of reading the publishing industry presents itself as the victim of this crisis. Of course, the publishing industry stands in a contradictory relationship to a culture of reading in any country. On the one hand, it has an interest in the expansion of the reading market, and the more people who read the more it is a potential beneficiary. On the other hand, as an industry driven by the profit motive, it can only accept the expansion of reading if this protects and expands the proverbial bottom line (or the profit margin). In South Africa this contradiction is an acute one, and the publishing industry shares this contradiction with the majority of capitalist industry.

    The publishing industry in South Africa is highly concentrated, with a small number of publishers (estimated at less than 20) accounting for the major part of the country’s book trade. Further, in the last few years, global companies and distributors have made significant inroads into the industry. This industry has remained profitable because of market concentration, since it focuses on a small and predominantly white middle class for its market. This has also reinforced a (high) price structure that generally excludes the majority of the population from being able to afford books. Indeed, over the last five years the tendency has been that price increases outstrip growth in volumes sold, indicating the general price indifference of the primary market for publishers in South Africa.

    The structure of the industry acts a barrier to the development of a broad culture of reading in South Africa.

    Firstly, the tendencies towards concentration are accompanied by a tendency towards risk aversion, and so book titles that do not promise high returns are excluded. The impact on local stories and new writers is a negative one, and in turn this has a negative impact on a broad-based culture of reading. Secondly, small and independent publishing is the lifeblood of a strong culture of reading, especially in a developing country such as South Africa. The tendencies towards concentration inherent in capitalist industry destroy small publishers without maintaining the appetite for risk that small publishers have. Thirdly, the tendency is for profit-maximising publishers to treat readers as ‘customers’, and not as citizens with a right to reading. These corporations only see the ‘culture of reading’ as a philanthropic act, and therefore do not engage in broad-based and sustained activism that is needed to transform reading cultures in South Africa. Fourthly, although private large publishers cannot play the role of transforming reading cultures, they oppose (whether actively or passively) affording a central role for the state in the transformation of reading cultures. Fifthly, the tendency to risk aversion in the publishing industry has meant that the book distribution network is largely concentrated in the white middle class areas, with no willingness or strategy to create a distribution network in working class areas.


    An analysis that deepens our understanding of the sources of the crisis in the culture of reading is vital if we are to make significant inroads into transforming and expanding reading cultures. It is not enough for us to continue to blame the legacy of apartheid. We need to explore and deepen our understanding, our critique of how social, economic and political policy options affect the development of a culture of reading. We need to develop a critique of the publishing industry itself in order to explore the kind of changes (in the industrial structure) we need to transform and broaden reading cultures.

    - Oupa Lehulere works at Khanya College and is member of the editorial collective. This article first appeared in the Khanya Journal 24. It is republished here with the permission of Khanya College, a NGO assisting various constituencies within working class and poor communities to respond to the challenges posed by the forces of economic and political globalisation.
    Oupa Lehulere
  • Create Jobs to Stop Xenophobia - Bond

    The Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has urged government to create more jobs, build more houses and change its foreign policy to end xenophobia.

    The Centre’s Patrick Bond points out that, “More and more refugees from Zimbabwe, Somalia and other parts of Africa are pouring into South Africa and are creating havoc in the country.”

    “We simply cannot say, because the sparks that create these infernos of anger are unpredictable. We do know, however, that the underlying causes have not changed since 2008, namely unemployment, housing shortages,” argues Bond.

    To read the article titled, “Create jobs to stop xenophobia: Prof,” click here.

  • Zille Commended Over 50/50 Equity Share

    Agriculture Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, has congratulated Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, for suggesting a 50/50 equity share scheme between farmers and their workers.

    Speaking at a two-day farm workers’ summit in Somerset West outside of Cape Town, “If Premier Zille is saying 50/50, then it is radical and she deserves a round of applause for that.”

    Zille said in her speech equity share schemes are ‘desirable’ as a model of genuine broad-based black economic empowerment, adding that “When equity share schemes work they are productive, sustainable and offer real empowerment.”

    To read the article titled, “Agriculture: ‘50/50 equity way forward’,” click here.
  • Women and Food Insecurity in Zimbabwe: Stuck between Gender Norms, the Economic Downturn and Climate Change

    The combination of climate change and the global economic downturn means that most African countries, including Zimbabwe, face food insecurity. Droughts, floods, poverty and unemployment result in high levels of uncertainty and anxiety about where the next meal is going to come from. Like many other matters, the concept of food insecurity in Zimbabwe is also characterised by gendered dimensions, in that women usually bear the brunt of food insecurity at household level (3). Zimbabwean women are often the ones responsible for feeding their families and a lack of food is therefore their problem to solve.

    Food insecurity varies according to context, which means that definitions of the phenomenon need to fit the specific context they refer to. The term ‘food insecurity’ can refer to food supply, access to food and adequacy and utilisation of food and food processes (4). Due to rural location, poverty and climate change, Zimbabwean women often resort to subsistence farming and their food insecurities are therefore relative to food production. The politicisation of landownership and food aid by the Government and NGOs alike have been a major cause of women’s struggle to produce enough food for their households.

    The majority of Zimbabwean women play the role of breadwinner because thousands of men have migrated to neighbouring countries in search of improved political and economic circumstances. In their absence, women have faced abundant food production and access problems, and have thus started resorting to informal trade and risky behaviour, including trading sex for food aid. Food insecurity in Zimbabwe has deterred those men who had the means and will to leave, and driven many of the women left behind to prostitution. Sadly, desperation for money and food means that women who resort to sex work are at the mercy of their male clients’ demands. In other words, the state of food insecurity directly exacerbates women’s vulnerability. This tragic situation is a direct consequence of the combined impact of the country’s eco-political state and the normative gender roles that favour males and still govern land matters.

    Gender roles, land reform and politics

    Zimbabweans have suffered from hunger for a decade and 2010 has already been declared a ‘hunger year’ after all crops wilted at knee level. According to Gaidzanwa (5), women did not benefit from the land reform programme which Government embarked on during its land redistribution mission. She notes that only elite women benefited from land reform, because the political economy in Zimbabwe still subscribes to the ‘Victorian ideology’ which perceives men as the main breadwinners who should have access to land and food supply. Ironically, elite, well-off women in political circles were therefore the only women who benefited from the land reform programmes intended to help the disadvantaged. The fact that women are most affected by food insecurity in the country can therefore be partially explained by the norms that govern the gender roles that men, women and their societies adhere to.

    In practice, these dominant gender roles in Zimbabwe mean that, even though women now perform the previously male role of household heads and breadwinners, they do not have the normative male claim to land or the male power to influence land issues. They can be likened to soldiers without weapons – they want and are expected to feed their families, yet the Government seems unwilling to provide them with the means to do so, namely free and fair food aid and access to land.

    Women in the rural areas have focused mainly on subsistence farming rather than commercial farming or farming for national consumption. They struggle to produce enough food for national consumption because of the partisan distribution of farming inputs. In an effort to empower ‘new’ farmers, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe embarked on a five year policy in 2008 to distribute tractors and other heavy farming equipments on credit and with zero deposit. It is striking that this Government which has reserved a quota for women in Parliament and politics did not implement the same quota in its five-year agricultural plan, considering that so many women are trying to survive by farming. Ultimately, women in Parliament benefited most from the equipment, whilst women in the rural areas remained neglected and impoverished. In addition, farming inputs such as seed and fertiliser were not distributed to every woman in the rural areas; instead those few men and women in politics had access to the inputs and were able to hoard them. They reportedly proceeded to resell them at exorbitant prices beyond the reach of many. The voice of rural women could furthermore not be heard in the media or in speeches made at any national conferences. The odd instances where rural women were mentioned distorted their experiences of food insecurity to suit Government campaigns.

    A recent survey (6) indicated that when food aid from Government or NGOs is distributed, the headman is expected to take on the responsibility of aid distribution. The distribution of food aid is a political task and recipients of aid are determined along partisan lines. Rural women who do not support the correct politicians then need to seek out extra-marital affairs with, and/or perform sexual favours for either the headman or food aid distributors. This sexual behaviour becomes necessary because of the politicised nature of land and food aid distribution and will increase the spread of HIV and AIDS amongst Zimbabweans.

    Sex work to cope with food insecurity

    Women use their agency to negotiate obstacles and find solutions to their troubles, but they also need to navigate the given set of circumstances in which they find themselves. Women in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and many of those who seek livelihoods outside the country, deal with the challenge of food insecurity, although in some cases in an arguably immoral way. Nyangairi (7) found that some Zimbabwean women who cross the border engage in sex work, mainly for financial benefit. The women then remit their earnings to their families back in Zimbabwe. The women’s narratives reveal that they feel like they have no choice but to engage in risky sexual acts because it is the only way for them to support their children. Although the women usually use condoms, some clients are willing to pay more for sex without a condom. Zimbabwean women who struggle with food shortages thus resort to sex work (sometimes unprotected) inside and outside of the country in order to obtain food aid and money.

    Again, normative ideas of masculinity expose women to HIV infection. Unprotected sex is perceived by some men as ‘real sex’ which is masculine in nature, referred to as kurova nyoro in Shona. Interestingly, the women say they are aware that they are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, but they refer to their situation as similar to that of soldiers who have been deployed for war: one can die, but survival is possible if you adhere to the rule of the game, which is condom use at all times.

    Government’s Responses

    The Zimbabwean Government’s failure to address food insecurity and its causes has largely affected women’s lives in terms of their access to land and other food related resources, such as food aid. The Legal Age Majority Act of 1982 clearly states that women are citizens equal to men, but social and material inequality has continued at national and household level. Instead of comprehending women’s situations and supporting their needs, the Government has simply clamped down on their survival strategies.

    Gaidzanwa condemns the Government’s deployment of police unit, Operation Chinyavada (Operation Scorpion), around beer halls, sheebens and brothels, which arrests any woman seen in and outside those buildings at night. Of course, only women are arrested by Operation Scorpion; their male clients are not considered ‘criminals’. Gaidzanwa argues that the operation and arrests are a violation of women’s rights to freedom of movement and choice. The Government seeks to combat sex work and HIV and AIDS with the criminalisation of sex work, a sign that it does not understand the broad and complex nature of the phenomenon, which is much more than simply women who sell their bodies for money.


    The Government needs to recognise and acknowledge that a large number of households are now female-headed and start mobilising support for them to access land and fulfil their social responsibilities. It is questionable, however, whether the Government will be motivated and able to do so, considering that it is probably largely driven by ‘traditional’ patriarchal ideas itself. Instead of addressing the symptoms of poverty and patriarchal thought systems, the Government needs to first rid itself of this thought system and then put tremendous effort into supporting the mothers of the nation.

    NGOs and other aid distributors need to have the same mindset, however. What use is aid when it is simply absorbed by the usual crevices and creases of corruption instead of flowing to those who really need it? Development programmes and so-called ‘interventions’ need to keep in mind the contexts that their beneficiaries live in as well as the power structures that regulate those contexts. This is complicated and certainly much harder that simply throwing money or food at the issue, but a sustainable solution to food insecurity and its impact on women’s lives is more than necessary – it’s the right thing to do.


    (1) Godfrey Maringira is an External Consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit.
    (2) Charlotte Sutherland is Research Manager: Gender Issues for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit.
    (3) UN-HABITAT. 2009. The state of Sub-Saharan Africa. Implications for poverty reduction.
    (4) Crush J. (2006) HIV & AIDS, Migration and Population Mobility.
    (5) Gaidzanwa, R. 2004. Women and Land rights in Zimbabwe. UZ publications, Harare.
    (6) October 2009: Distribution of food aid and farming inputs in rural areas of Zimbabwe.
    (7) Nyangairi, B. 2010. Migrant Women in Sex Work: Trajectories and Perceptions of Zimbabwean sex workers in Hillbrow, South Africa, MA thesis by Dissertation submitted to Forced Migration Studies Programme. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

    - Godfrey Maringira is an external consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit and Charlotte Sutherland is Research Manager: Gender Issues for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit.

    This article is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political and economic trends and developments in Africa. For more information, see or Alternatively, click here to take advantage of CAI’s free, no obligation, 1-month trial to the company’s Standard Report Series.

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    Godfrey Maringira
    Charlotte Sutherland
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