“Us women in agriculture need to be role models for the future generations of women”

Sheila Zulu, Agronomist and Trainer at the Martin Richenhagen Future Farm Zambia

She works on a farm and has an impressive track record in agriculture: with several degrees and experience in seed production, field demonstrations and agricultural risk management, Sheila Zulu’s role, as a scientist, is to strive to devise solutions for the many challenges farmers face. She is also an Agronomist and Trainer for the AGCO Future Farm in Zambia.

AGCO Future Farm

Sheila’s passion for agriculture developed when she enrolled into an agricultural college. “Before that, my background in agriculture can be considered as subsistence, but spending two years in the UK studying agriculture in the countryside following my ten years of experience in the agricultural sector, opened my eyes on how wide this sector is and broadened my knowledge and passion.”

Sheila joined AGCO Future Farm in 2016, after 10 years of working with subsistence and commercial farmers in various roles in Zambia. Today, she is responsible for the management of Cropping projects to develop the best farm practice for sub-Saharan Africa and provide short course Agronomy training coupled with farm demonstrations that show case various farming practices and risk management techniques.

With 15 years of experience working in the sector and as an Agronomist and a trainer in agronomy short course programs, Sheila is closely connected to the farmers and the sector in general: “I like work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and finding solutions for farmers”, she says.

Sheila’s base of operations is a working farm at the AGCO training centre in Zambia that functions as an information hub for agronomy and mechanization. The trainings provided there draw people from all circles, ranging from university students, farmers and agri-entrepreneurs.

“In all these years, I have learnt and continue learning a lot about agriculture. My job enables me to interact with various farmers and gives me great exposure to various farms and different farming systems. I operate on a farm and conducting different cropping trials and research related activities provides great lessons, some of which cannot be taught in class” she says.

Women in agriculture

Agriculture in Zambia is still dominated by men, even though Sheila notices women slowly being more present in the sector, even though most of these women are limited to subsistence farming, producing only enough for consumption in the rural areas.

“The huge gap lies in commercial farming, dominantly male due to men’s easy access to resources. The gender gap is caused by more than just unequal access to resources like labor, land, inputs and finance. Women farmers don’t get as many benefits as their male counterparts, partly due to men acquiring resources as representatives for the families. Government and other agriculture organisations have formulated policies which are now focusing on women in agriculture and support their efforts to increase productivity.”

In addition to the problem of access to resources and benefits, farming also suffers from the ancient perception that agriculture was for the old and illiterate, causing people to shy away from it. As a result, student enrollment for young women in agriculture related courses is still low, a trend Sheila notices in general in Africa:

“When I was in the UK, I saw women getting into the sector to acquire knowledge and eventually prepare to take over their families’ farms. That was very different from what I saw in Africa!”

“The major efforts required by all of us women in the agriculture sector is to continually send out messages to the public that agriculture is a lucrative business. This sector feeds humanity and it is a profession like any other which should be considered for career paths. Encouraging the girls and women within our circles to take up agriculture would help increase their number in the sector. It is also important to be role models for those young women, so that they have women to look up to and in order to encourage this next generation of women to pursue a career in agriculture.”

Even though Sheila doesn’t notice obvious differences in perception in her work, the low number of women agronomists compared to men is a sign that there is still a lot of work to be done: “these numbers make it look like being an agronomist is a man’s job when, in fact, it is not.”

“I have lots of contact with women in agriculture through trainings and community work”, Sheila continues, “with all the efforts being made to support women in agriculture and to recognise them, they are very excited and motivated. This shows in the hard work and innovations of different farming technologies that they employ in protecting their crops to increase crop yields – e.g. using local herbs to control pests in their crops.”

Food heroes

Sheila is a do-er. When we ask her about what she would do if she could start her own farm, we learn that she already has acquired a piece of land and is working towards her dream of feeding her country and spreading knowledge.

“Though not yet in full operation, I did purchase a piece of land where my main focus will be on crop production and research activities that should contribute to the academic sector. Contributing to the nation’s food security while helping generating knowledge for students will be very fulfilling for me. Being an agronomist for AGCO, which is a machinery company, has accorded me an opportunity to learn tractor driving so that’s exciting!”

For all the women considering going into agriculture, Sheila wants to conclude:

“I just wanted to add a word of encouragement to all females contemplating getting into agriculture as a career or a lifetime activity: remember that the entire planet depends on agriculture and that is why you can never go wrong. All the food that ends up on the table has been grown by people whom I call food heroes. I couldn’t have had it any better than doing what am doing.”

 


About Sheila

Sheila Zulu (42), lives in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. A very accomplished person, Sheila has a Master’s Degree with Distinction in Agriculture sciences and production systems from Harper Adams University (HAU) in UK, a Bachelor of Technology in Agriculture Management from the University of South Africa (UNISA), a National Diploma in Agriculture (Major in Crop science) from the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC) and an Advanced Diploma in Insurance from the Zambia Insurance Business College (ZIBCT).

Furthermore, she has completed courses in Conservation Agriculture and Tillage Techniques at the Golden Valley Agricultural Research Trust (GART), Seed Inspection Training at the Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI), Farm Management Information systems at BayWa and Tractor driving through the AGCO mechanization training programme.

Before her career at AGCO, Sheila held a position as District Manager and Agriculture Superintendent at ZSIC General Insurance, where she was responsible for agricultural risk management, claim processing and claim loss adjustment. She also worked as a Regional Manager for SeedCo Zambia, the leading certified seed company, where she was involved in seed production, seed inspection and field demonstrations and as an extension Officer for the German Technical Co-operation (GiZ) under the Small and Emergent farmers conservation agriculture program.

In her current role as an Agronomist and Trainer for AGCO Future Farm Zambia, Sheila is

responsible for the management of cropping projects to develop the best farm practice for sub-Saharan Africa and provide short course Agronomy training coupled with farm demonstrations that show case various farming practices and risk management techniques.

 


About the AGCO Martin Richenhagen Future Farm

The Martin Richenhagen Future Farm was developed to impact and empower farmers across Africa. Since 2015, the farm started its mission to give all African farmers access to modern agriculture solutions.

By educating people on modern farming techniques, the Future Farm team are empowering local communities, helping people develop sustainable food production systems and increasing productivity. Its goal is to help African farmers understand how to use their agricultural resources more efficiently.

The AGCO Martin Richenhagen Future Farm strives to:

·        boost agricultural productivity and reduce post-harvest waste with smart solutions

·        empower (future) farmers with training and expertise

·        be a partner for African (future) farmers, helping them make their contribution to a sustainable and prosperous Africa

 

 

 

This article appeared in Women in Ag Mag #2. Click here to read the magazine. 

 

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