Climate Conversations – Swazi Farmer Brings ‘Happy’ Ending to Food Security Woes

Happy Lungile Shongwe drives her tractor in Swaziland's Lubombo district. Photo: FANRPAN

This blog post by Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, the chief cxecutive of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).appeared on the Reuter’s Alternet blog Climate Conversations. Reuters Alertnert is a Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2011 media partner. Read the article here or below.

Climate change is a reality in Africa and it is felt by the most vulnerable people. For Happy Lungile Shongwe, a mother of two from Maphumulo in the Lubombo district of Swaziland, however, the story has a happy ending, unlike for most who are battling to cope with climate shocks.

Shongwe is a smallholder farmer who produces seeds. When Swaziland was hard hit by drought in 2002, Shongwe was amongst the smallholder farmers who felt the shock as their fields were destroyed. Food reserves ran dry and she was among the people who were left destitute.

But the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations came to the rescue of these communities, not only by providing food vouchers but also arming them with information on how best they can respond to the drought.

Shongwe moved away from planting maize and raising broiler chickens as these were not coping with the changing climate.  Instead, she began planting legumes that have proved to be drought resistant. Starting with just one hectare of her land, she soon realised increased yields in the first season. She planted an extra three hectares the following season and has never looked back.

Over the years, her move has continued to produce higher yields and this eventually motivated her to become a business woman. She registered Hlelile Investments (Pty) Ltd, a company that produces and markets seeds. Through her company, she is now a certified seed producer through the Seed Quality Control Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. The division plays an important role in guiding smallholder farmers on the process of seed certification.

The Ministry of Agriculture in Swaziland assists smallholder farmers with information and knowledge through its extension officers, in order to respond appropriately to climate change challenges and opportunities.

Shongwe benefited from this service, and has managed to buy a tractor, which assists her in planting on time as well as benefitting the local community which also uses it for planting. The community was initially dependent on a government tractor, which had a long waiting list.

Shongwe further imparted skills and knowledge to her community by gathering women and advising them. As her business grew, she purchased processing and packaging equipment and embarked on a marketing programme so that others in the seed industry had a source of quality seed that was packaged and labeled appropriately to be sold directly at markets.

She believes her community seeds can compete with those of any seed producer in Swaziland and is working hard to realise another dream of smallholder farmers accessing markets in big cities and getting recognition for producing quality seeds.

Shongwe’s activities in seed production and community work, as well as in assisting other farmers, has made a tremendous contribution in terms of food and nutrition security in the country.

Currently, African women produce between 80 and 90 percent of the region’s agricultural produce are the majority of the agricultural labour force on the continent.  Despite this fact, they receive only 5 percent of the resources from extension services and less than 10 percent of the credit allocated to smallholders.

Shongwe’s success illustrates how empowering African women farmers can help boost food security and resilience to climate change. It is estimated that agricultural productivity in Africa would increase by 20 to 30 percent if women were given the same access as men to key agricultural inputs.