Written for Fempreneurs Africa Magazine by Regai Grace Gwande
50% of farmers around the world are women, yet they are rarely recognised for their contribution to food production and security. More-so, more than 50% of the Zimbabwean population constitutes women. In most developing countries, women still cannot own land or make decisions regarding their households and family farms. Men remain the principal beneficiaries of agricultural resources, deciding what crops will be grown, how they are sold and what the family can do with the profits, meaning that the Zimbabwe agri-business sector is male-dominated. Even though the historic gender gaps are difficult to overcome, Zimbabwe is making strides to do just that.
It is with this thought, that a number of women have taken agriculture seriously and they are doing wonders in this regard. One such woman who is not be spared mention in the agricultural business is Ms Nomhle Maggie Mliswa, the Managing Director of Summerhill Farm in Mhangura Doma, Mashonaland West Province, Region 2, about 210km out of Harare. She has challenged this myth and has made a name for herself in this lucrative business. Her determination and passion has seen her achieve many accolades in recognition of her sterling work.
Summerhill Farm is a diversified modern farm with aspects of humanity in agriculture ranging from cattle ranching, poultry farming, horticulture, grain, soya beans, potatoes, wheat and precision farming which is climate sensitive. The farm also offers look and learn visits by people coming from churches, schools, like-minded farmers and other countries while providing education to anyone who requires it.
Nomhle embraced a different approach and strategy for her to uphold her game plan in a male dominated space, and decided to outsource expert partners and form joint ventures in different fields so as to complement her agricultural capacity. This has seen 220 hectares of arable land being used out of a 345 hectare farm. The synergy has improved on innovation, equipment availability, capacity boosting and skills transfer.
When further probed Ms Mliswa said, ‘Once one has entered into a partnership, it is important that you become hands-on, and involved at all times. Farming is like any other business, which requires critical thinking, professionalism, collaboration and leadership. There is need to maintain business ethics, loyalty and honesty if one enters in these partnerships to avoid disappointments.’ The synergy has not just brought in maximum utilisation of the farm but has also brought in partnership in bringing in heavy machinery and irrigation. This is key in reclaiming the breadbasket status of the country.
Summerhill Farm is an equal opportunity employer employing 350 people, of which almost 200 are women, therefore uplifting their lives by involving them to get various skills. The employment is a tool for their households to getting financial benefits and improving their living standards.
Recently, a high-profile conference was held which was organised by Summerhill Farm and Cherry Africa (from Nigeria) in Mashonaland West Province, where delegates were drawn from Nigeria, Liberia, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This was a brainchild of Ms Mliswa and her Nigerian counterpart. The conference was designed to help promote the agricultural sector in the continent. This shows the determination and zeal that Ms Mliswa has toward providing strategic partnerships even beyond borders.
There is no journey without hurdles. Noma (as she is affectionately known) overcame some challenges along the way. She suffered a spinal injury which wasn’t easy to deal with. Being in a male dominated industry, she would face stereotyping comments from fellow farmers including women.
Summerhill Farm gives back to the community in many different ways;
• Nutrition – It provides porridge, oats, poultry offal as protein, and a pocket of potatoes weekly to its workers
• Local – resuscitation of bridges and roads
• Sports – funds a community football team and hosts tournaments for cohesion to avoid spreading of AIDS/ HIV.
To help reduce unnecessary unethical behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse among youths and adults, there are sports tournaments in football, netball, tag of war etc. This helps the community to stay engaged in sports and extra curriculum activities. This encourages cohesion and also reduces domestic violence.
There are also health promotion chat platforms where women discuss their health issues with local health village workers and sponsored mobile clinics. There are call-ins made for cancer – screening; breast, cervical prostate cancer screening.
Apart from being a busy woman on land, Noma is a mother of 2, a devout Christian and a motivational speaker. She is the current president of the African Women in Leadership Organisation Zimbabwe Chapter (AWLO) and sits on various boards such as PLO Lumumba Foundation Advisory Board as well as others in Zimbabwe and beyond.
Regai Grace Gwande writes in her own capacity. She is a Mentor, Coach and Virtual Assistant. She can be contacted on Call/WhatsApp +263775526726 or email@example.com .