To honour women in a rural setting the United Nationals have dedicated 15 October International Day of Rural Women, with the theme for this year being “Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19”. The role of women, especially those in rural settings, in addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in particular putting an end to poverty and hunger, cannot be overstated.
In a forestry context, as Sappi acknowledges “in addition to providing the backbone for the industry, rural women are also pivotal in contributing to agricultural production of food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management in the country. Along with this, they also perform the bulk of the unpaid care and domestic work within families and households, a fact that goes largely unheralded in our country. Also, often being the breadwinner in a family, they are also the ones who prepare the bread and lovingly serve it, nurturing and nourishing their families.” Sappi Forests nationwide directly or indirectly employ around 4 000 women through their nurseries and via harvesting and silviculture subcontractors, making the company very aware of the crucial role that rural women play in the agricultural labour force.
Through the Sappi Khulisa programme, 2 700 rural women participants supply Sappi with timber, one of these women is Bhekekile Ngema from Ngudwini, in Southern Zululand. A sprightly and knowledgeable 82-year-old, Mama Ngema started tree farming in 1965 and has never looked back. Through her partnership with Sappi Khulisa she has been able to send three of her children to university, an achievement she values highly, as she explains “It brings me great happiness to have three qualified teachers in our household. I live in a decent house for someone my age, which was all built through my Sappi Khulisa profits. With forestry, once you get in, you will never want to come out – the benefits are worth working hard for.”
Doris Mdladla, is another rural women who has proved that with passion and hard work you can experience success in the forestry industry, “Through the assistance of Khulisa, I have been able to live off my combined 15-hectare plots and send my children to university. I am proud to say we have a teacher and an agricultural professional in our home. We have built a 12-room home and brought ourselves a family car through our Sappi Khulisa profits.”
These are examples of just two women, from a Sector filled with inspirational women, who have succeeded as a result of their hard work, determination and passion for forestry and the industry’s willingness to share resources, committee to knowledge and skills transfer and for lasting and enduring partnerships.
As FSA, we are proud to represent a Sector so committed to uplifting, upskilling and partnering with rural communities, and in particular, the women in these communities to forge brighter futures for the women, the communities and our Nation as a whole.