Women farmers across Africa play a critical role in reducing hunger and creating job opportunities for Africa’s youth. Anna Phosa, the leading female commercial pig farmer in South Africa, is an example of the impact women farmers can have on the economy. She has overcome the immense social, cultural and economic obstacles facing subsistence farmers to become an extraordinary leader in agriculture, a sector that represents 15 percent of the continent’s GDP and employs half its workforce.
Agripreneurship in Action
After dropping out of nursing school to care for her three children, Phosa focused on cultivating a small chicken and vegetable garden in Soweto, a township representing roughly one-third of the population of Johannesburg. In 2004, she used $100 from her personal savings to buy four piglets, dedicating her “spare time” to researching pig farming and working with other farmers. She sold pork, the most widely consumed meat in the world, to local markets in the township. Less than four years later, the second-largest supermarket chain in South Africa, Pick n Pay, signed a contract with Phosa to supply local stores with 10 pigs per week.
Impressed by her consistent delivery and business ethics, the chain increased its demand to 20 pigs per week, then 100 in 2010, and most recently, 300–350 pigs per week to outlets across the country. In September 2018, Phosa secured a separate contract to supply 50 pigs per week to MassMart, the second-largest distributor of consumer goods on the continent (and in which the U.S. multinational corporation Walmart holds a majority share). Phosa’s farm has the capacity to raise more than 4,000 pigs at a time, and she anticipates further expansion.
After struggling for 18 months to secure a loan in the country’s credit-conservative banking market in 2010, she approached Absa Bank, which had developed a tool with USAID to increase lending to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and nontraditional recipients. Her track record of success with Pick n Pay, combined with her “unique business savvy” and commitment to continuous training, convinced Absa to offer her a loan to further expand her business. Sisa Ntshona, head of Enterprise Development at Absa, explained, “We didn’t approach [Anna Phosa’s case] in the normal sense of using collateral security, because Phosa just didn’t have any — and that is representative of entrepreneurs throughout the country.”
Creating Jobs, Ensuring Food Security
In a country where more than half of all youth are unemployed, Phosa employs 40 permanent staff and 10 seasonal workers on her farm, many of whom are young men who have dropped out of school and have struggled to acquire a steady income. Only 5.1 percent of South Africans work in agriculture, but the sector grew by 3.2 percent in the last year, making agriculture the second “healthiest” sector in the labor market after construction. Phosa says she enjoys mentoring students who have just completed agricultural studies, adding “we also support other farmers by buying their products.”
Women in South Africa represent at least one-third of all formal agricultural workers, and many more women cultivate basic subsistence foods in their gardens for their immediate households. Social mores and legal barriers continue to handicap these women farmers. Anna Phosa noted that women own less land, have less access to credit and insurance, and are less likely to benefit from the training, extension services and professional networks that are critical to the success of their farms. In addition to prioritizing global food security and gender equality in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization recently estimated that women farmers, like Anna Phosa, would boost agricultural production and help lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger — if they had the same rights and resources as men.