A group of female farmers are revolutionizing smallholder maize production in South Africa, thanks to a pioneering empowerment scheme.

The Women in Maize initiative – spearheaded by our team in South Africa and backed by the country’s government – is empowering women farmers to run their own businesses and earn a steady income to support their families.

With a 20 million rand (US$1.3 million) joint investment, the project partners with women farmers to help create sustainable smallholding businesses and gain entry into business supply chains.

Our team in South Africa has committed to buy the full 16,000 tons of maize expected to be produced by the farmers this year – almost a tenth of our annual maize requirement in the country. Remarkably, this initial harvest is set to be achieved despite the widespread drought experienced by farmers across South Africa.

More than 120 women farmers are currently involved in the scheme, which addresses some of the challenges encountered by emerging growers in rural and township communities. It provides access to finance, technical advice, business training and mentoring.

In late 2015, 11 women-led cooperatives planted non-genetically modified yellow maize on 1,800 hectares of land in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the North West. Ekangala Primary Cooperative, owned and run by five women, was one of the first participants in the Women in Maize program.

Before the program, the cooperative used only 15 hectares of a total 45 hectares of land for farming purposes and yielded only one ton of produce per hectare. Now they make use of the full 45 hectares and yield four tons of produce per hectare.

A version of this story was first published on SABMiller.com on 8 August 2016