In this September 13, 2017 piece reposted from globalfarmernetwork.org, Ruramiso Mashumba, Zimbabwe shares how she became a farmer. Ruramiso is a member of the Global Farmer Network and has been recognized as the 2020 GFN Kleckner Award recipient.
When I decided to become a farmer in Zimbabwe, people viewed that as an unusual decision.
Men dominated agriculture in Africa, especially older men—and here I was, a young woman who was just beginning, asking bankers for finance.
They saw me as a risk. So my first loan wound up coming from my family.
It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to start out. Now I’m going strong—and my goal is not only personal success on my farm, but also the transformation of African agriculture through the empowerment of women and access to finance and technology.
My farm is in Marondera, a rural town in eastern Zimbabwe. We already have much of what we need: prime soil, plenty of sun, and the willingness to work hard.
On 400 hectares of arable land, we grow a variety of crops, such as maize, beans, rice, millet, and sorghum, as well as gum trees in partnership with a sustainable afforestation association. Our livelihood depends in part on global trade, as we have exported snap peas to the United Kingdom. We’re hoping to expand soon, growing vegetables for customers in the Netherlands.
Some people seem to think that when women farm, we don’t have ambitions beyond subsistence—and that our farming is strictly small scale. In other words, farming for us is closer to a hobby that we do in our spare time than a business that is worthy of investment.
I’m trying to change that by showing women how much they can accomplish if they band together and create business plans. They need to keep records. They must track profits and losses. They must show that they can meet the quality-control standards of the European Union so exporting their products will be possible.
Only then will they acquire long-term financing.
The money from financing, of course, is just a means to an end. What we really need is technology. That’s what we want to spend the money on.
Technology multiplies the effect of our labor, making us more efficient and productive as we work the land. It allows us to upscale our operations, as we move from smallholder farming to commercial agriculture.
I’ve seen the difference technology has made on my own farm. When I acquired an 80-hp tractor, our ability to grow crops was transformed. The addition of storage and cooling facilities helped us cut down on the post-harvest losses that imperil African food security.
I’m optimistic about the future of African agriculture. We have underperformed for a long time, compared with the rest of the world. In Zimbabwe, our national yields have dropped for three years in a row. Other sub-Saharan countries have suffered similar problems.
We have a lot of catching up to do.
Some people may see this as an insurmountable challenge. I see something different: a remarkable opportunity to get more from the land. As we turn our small farms into commercial enterprises, we have a chance to develop and grow and do much better.
Women are essential to this project. In Zimbabwe today, seven out of every ten farmers is a woman on a small-scale farm.
We’ll start with the basics of finance and mechanization. Then, we’ll move on to other technologies, such as advanced storage facilities that will fight spoilage.
We’re also ready to embrace genetic modification. It has revolutionized agriculture everywhere it’s been tried, including right across our southern border in South Africa.
We haven’t tried GMOs in Zimbabwe yet, as our country currently doesn’t allow them. Opposition to this safe and proven technology won’t last forever, though, because the advantages are so obvious. GMO maize that resists pests like the stalk borer are essential to our future, along with drought resistance and higher yields.
When I’m not farming, I’m trying to spread this message of hope and aspiration, in the belief that other young women will take up the call to look at farming as a business that deserves financing and to treat technology as a friend who can enable growth.
One day, the idea of an enterprising, successful woman in farming won’t seem so strange. We’ll be ordinary.
This post originally ran 9/13/17.