For years, Patience Matope has managed to survive on subsistence farming, producing grain, ground nuts and vegetables from her family’s piece of land.
She has managed to produce enough to sustain the family and surplus for sale in the same area or Harare.
She was, however, left with uncertainties after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was first detected in China in December 2019.
For her, all hope was cut off as she faced challenges emanating from loss of income and low production due to the Covid-19 induced lockdowns effected in the country since March 31, 2020.
It was a case of double jeopardy for the mother of three due to lack of access to inputs as local dealers were closed, while she could not also market the little she had due to travel restrictions, although agriculture and its value chains were classified essential service.
Her story is shared by several other small scale farmers in her area, Domboshava, a village that is approximately 27km North of Harare who had to bear the brunt of the pandemic. Supply chains for inputs were disrupted while normal delivery channels of produce to markets were cut off.
“My earnings were severely cut during the lockdown period. I sell mostly what I produce, but production went down significantly, it was difficult to get seed and other inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides as shops were closed in compliance with the lockdown regulations,” she said in an interview.
“I have always survived on agriculture to take care of my family and send my children to school. I sell what I produce locally or in town (Harare). I also buy from other producers for resale especially in Harare.
“But business went down due to lack of access to both suppliers and markets.
“There was no transport to move from point A to B, and we were asked to produce exemption letters which we never got despite being essential services,” she said.
According to a study by the Graca Machel Trust’s Women Economic Social Advancement (WESA), upcoming women entrepreneurs have been hardest hit by the pandemic although Governments across the region had programmes and packages to cushion them.
The Graca Machel Trust (GMT) advocates for gender inclusiveness in the relief and recovery responses and a reconstruction agenda from the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa. Their recent study titled “An analysis of the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Strategies in Select Countries in Africa Through a Gender Lens” co-authored by Moira Ngaru and Cathrine Dzingire shows livelihoods of women were drastically affected by the pandemic.
Apart from reducing women entrepreneurs’ income by 50 percent, the study also revealed there was lack of coordination among Government Ministries which stalled progress for women farmers.
“Some business women during lockdown had challenges going about their usual business like selling poultry as they were denied by authorities because “poultry is not farming”, yet the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government had deemed them an essential service,” reads part of the report.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for poorer households, labour opportunities and wage rates significantly went down, below average, mainly due to COVID-19 related income disruptions. Seasonal casual labour opportunities such as harvesting on farms also became limited which severely affected women’s incomes as they constitute a majority of farm laborers.
In view of the challenges faced, Government introduced programmes and facilities to cushion the nation from the adverse impacts of the pandemic.
However, in agriculture for instance, women said they never benefited from such programmes.
Said Mrs Matope: “We hear these programmes on news, but never get full details on how one can benefit from such. More should be done in raising awareness of such initiatives so that they reach the intended beneficiaries.”
Presenting oral evidence before Parliament this week on Government programmes in agriculture, Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers’ Trust pointed out that participation of women in such programmes is limited.
The president and founder of the Trust, Mrs Depinah Nkomo said women were generally sidelined and fail to benefit, despite their great potential. She said accessing inputs and loans from banks were a nightmare due as the conditions did not favour women.
“This time, for example loans for Command Agriculture inputs are now administered by banks yet we do not have collateral and this has cut off many women from taking part,” she said.
Mrs Nkomo said interventions such as introducing drip irrigation for women farmers would go a long way in enhancing their productivity as well as boost their earnings.