The significant decline in employment rates in agriculture together with the increased casualisation and feminisation of agricultural labour have increased farmwomen's vulnerability by limiting their viable employment opportunities and engaging them in only precarious seasonal work. There are two significant consequences of farmwomen's tenuous employment. Firstly, they are largely dependent on male partners and state social security grants. In a context where gender-based violence is pervasive, women's lack of economic independence contributes to their vulnerability by constraining their ability to leave abusive relationships.
Secondly, there is widespread household food insecurity among farm workers. Research undertaken by WFP in 2011 in Rawsonville found that 57 per cent of farm worker households routinely experience hunger. Furthermore, farm workers experience seasonal food insecurity which coincides with the off-season when many women are not employed.
Clearly, there is a need for farmwomen to both generate an independent income and improve household food security. Women's agricultural cooperatives provide an effective way of addressing both issues.
The Programme aims to promote and support the development of women's cooperatives as a basis for increasing livelihood opportunities and household food security for women seasonal workers. The Cooperatives Programme also aims to promote environmentally sustainable agricultural practices such as agro-ecological cultivation which challenges the dominant land use model where a large land holding is owned by a single (usually white male) farmer. Through skills development, mentoring, and support the Cooperatives Programme builds farmwomen's capacity, improves their economic independence, and strengthens their collectivism.
Cooperatives: WFP has assisted in the establishment of three women's agricultural cooperatives – in Stellenbosch, Rawsonville and Ceres. The Cooperatives have received agro-ecological training and have produced vegetables and gourmet mushrooms, despite challenges in accessing both secure productive land and reliable markets.
Food gardens: To specifically address household food insecurity, the Programme has also assisted in establishing 10 food gardens with women seasonal farm workers living on farms and an informal settlement. The women have participated in agro-ecological training, which has assisted them in successfully producing vegetables.
- Both cooperatives and food garden members have produced food for household consumption, while Rawsonville and Stellenbosch cooperatives have also sold and shared surplus mushrooms and vegetables.
- Cooperative members have acquired a range of skills, including agro-ecological production while indigenous knowledge has also been reinforced.
- Farmwomen's increase in self-confidence and self-esteem has been demonstrated by their rigorous engagement with local municipalities around securing access to productive land.
- Cooperative and food garden members have served as positive role models for other seasonal and unemployed farmwomen who have approached WFP for assistance in establishing other food gardens and cooperatives.