Marvis Bih has asked the question, “Is microfinance a ‘magic bullet’ for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa?” (Bih, 2018). Her answer to her own question that yes, microfinance can be highly effective as a means to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa, but it has to be intentionally gender-sensitive and tailored to address specific risks for African women, and in an affordable manner.
The experience of Ketshidile Komako and other women in Botswana prove the point. Born in Hukuntsi, about 500km from the capital city of Gaborone, Ketshedile has opted to farming much closer to the city in Pitshane Molopo, which is about 170km from the city. She started school in Hukuntsi then moved to Gaborone, but dropped out of school due to pregnancy in her junior secondary school years. In 2017 Ketshidile applied for a 9 month program with the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), learning how to grow tomatoes using hydroponics. Taking the training back to her farm became a challenge as she did not have a borehole for irrigation. She applied for CEDA funding for implements and identified a suitable farm in her area and was offered a 7-year lease agreement to farm. Before she could finish her training at LEA and as she was still working on the procurement of implements, the landlord demanded that she commences the agreement and start paying rent. He offered to rent her his own equipment, but she could not afford to pay for new implements as well as the rental implements. She had to be mindful of the payback plan with CEDA should her loan application be successful. The lease agreement fell through and she was making another attempt to rent another 28 hectare land, fenced and with a borehole.
Of her 5 siblings, only 2 have their own land. Although Ketshidile had user access to her family land, she desired her own land so that she could access credit to commercialize her farming. She hoped to unlock the market opportunities in her farming areas of Barolong farms as many people crossed the border through their area into South Africa to buy vegetables. She aspired to become a leading supplier of tomatoes, garlic, onions, potatoes and carrots. Her choice to farm the Borolong area which is along the border between Botswana and South Africa was informed by her observation that there was an over-reliance on vegetable product from South Africa. In this way, she hoped to improve Botswana’s food security.
Ketshidile comes from a strong farming family background and her grandfather farmed potatoes and leafy vegetables. She intended to attract her own children into farming as she saw a high potential of wealth in agricultural farming. As a young woman, she initially didn’t have interest but farming slowly grew on her. Before aiming to grow her farming big, Ketshidile started with a backyard garden in which she was able to grow and to sell tomatoes. She had largely earned an income as a street vendor, selling second hand clothing, buying, packaging and reselling leafy vegetables and snacks.