For the first time since the start of the initiative nine years ago, Prime Minister, Dr. Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini, was a guest of honour during the presentation ceremony of this year’s Woman Farmer of the Year Competition held at Riders Rannch in Sidvokodvo in October.
Although this gesture may have seemed normal to many spectators, it was a huge sign of endorsement and acceptance by government of the work started by Ms. Sonia Paiva, the former chief executive of the Carson Group of Companies. “We were overwhelmed by the acceptance of our invitation,” says Paiva. She added that it gave them the opportunity to share with the highest officer in government, the achievements and challenges of women farmers and the work done by the Foundation so far. She noted that the demand is greater while resources are slim for running the competition. She appealed for assistance not to be once-off as they need to monitor and evaluate the impact of the initiative.
In his remarks, the Prime Minister promised to allocate a budget towards the running of the competition in the coming years.
Although Paiva started off in the cut-throat business world of the motor industry, she soon developed an interest in farming and also saw the need to empower other women to be successful in life. “My husband and I used to ride motorbikes on weekends and we had the opportunity traverse rural communities of Swaziland through the dirt roads,” she says. “I was appalled at the level of poverty in rural communities; especially because the people we encountered were women and young girls.” It was through the riding experience that Paiva decided she needed to do something about the situation.
She decided to identify, recognize and develop rural women farmers in Swaziland by creating market linkages for their produce. She then registered the Woman Farmer Foundation as a non-governmental organization which seeks to promote and advance the interests of Swazi women in the agricultural sector at both commercial and subsistence level.
The women have further been assisted to source finance, exchange skills, network and source markets for their produce such as Eswatini Kitchen, where she is also the executive director.
Over the years, the Foundation has faced challenges of limited sponsorship for the competition and the lack of technical extension services for the women farmers. They still face challenges of monitoring and evaluation because of the absence of motor vehicles for reaching to the farmers. “The assistance we normally get is usually associated with the presentation ceremony whereas we have a programme to reach out to the women throughout the country on a regular basis,” says Paiva.
She believes that women have the ability to positively change their family environment given the appropriate exposure.
In 2007, she forged partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to organize the Woman Farmer of the Year Competition. The Ministry brought in agricultural expertise and technical know-how at decentralized levels to assist and develop the women farmers commercialise their farming.
The competition grew from 123 women participating in 2014 to 223 in 2015 and 232 in 2016.
This year, the entries were separated into two categories of small-scale and large-scale farmers. Paiva says they were surprised to see an increase in the number of entries despite the devastating drought situation. “We were expecting a decline in the number of entries due to the impact of drought but we managed to get a huge number,” she says. Most of the entries came from the Shiselweni Region in the categories of vegetable production and indigenous chickens farming. Paiva explained that since the start of the competition, women farmers have been able to diversify their produce and they now understand the importance of value chain.
Despite the improved skills, Paiva says there is still an opportunity to improve the quality and quantity of the produce from women farmers. They also need more capacity on entrepreneurship skills, she says.
“The country needs to be self-sufficient in food security and this can be done by promoting women farmers,” she says. In 2015, Swaziland imported E89, 6 million worth of fruits and vegetables.
Paiva has already set plans in motion to target the girl child in her next initiative. Her aim is to introduce farming at a much younger age and keep the youth more active during holidays. “There is more to life than blessers,” she says, noting that the country faces a serious problem of unwanted pregnancies involving young girls. The programme will also target young boys as they also cause social problems if they are not supported in the right direction.
Large-Scale Farming top 3 Winners
1. Mhlophe Mhlanga, Lobamba Lomdzala, Hhohho, Vegetable production.
2. Thulisile Ngwenya, Duze, Lubombo, Indigenous chickens.
3. Nompumelelo Dlamini Nginamadvolo, Hhohho, Beekeeping.
Small-Scale Farming top 3 Winners
1. Patricia Simelane, Mahamba, Shiselweni, Vegetable production.
2. Nomsa Sigudla, Nsingweni, Hhohho Maize.
3. Nonhlanhla Sukati, Ezulwini, Hhohho Broilers.