Ntokozo Motloung comes from a strong line of women in agriculture and is harnessing her family’s passion to tackle food security and job creation in South Africa from the ground up.
The daughter of an agricultural teacher and the granddaughter of a self-taught farmer, 35-year old Ntokozo is the founder and CEO of Ntozakhe Social Development, an AgriSETA-accredited training service provider offering development programmes in the agricultural sector. “We help people access affordable and diverse foods through the coordination and implementation of household and community food security projects, as part of the Food and Nutrition Security Policy of SA,” she explains.
Another key mandate of Ntozakhe Social Development is to drive job creation in the agricultural sector through training programmes that aim to make aspiring farmers not merely sustainable, but profitable. “We focus on biological soil management with pasture management and organic production, ensuring quality and ultimately gross profit margins for producers,” she explains.
Growing job opportunities in the agricultural sector is crucial to South Africa’s future food security, especially as there has been a steady decrease in employment in the sector. Stats SA’s Commercial Agriculture Census of 2017, released in March 2020, found that employment in the sector dropped by 1.6% between 2007 and 2018, from 769 594 to 757 628.
Ntokozo’s company has been boosting these figures since she founded it in 2014. A single training project on her small farm in uMzinyathi, KwaZulu-Natal, takes in around 200 learners who undergo a programme that consists of 30% theory and 70% practical application. “We have a 60% success rate with our mentorship programme, with most of the students going on to open their own agri-business.”
The company’s founding ethos was to be a responsible business that supports the community. “As such, we partner with numerous local non-profit organisations.”
As a young, black woman in agriculture, Ntokozo is determined to plough more diversity into the sector. This is evident in her own staff complement of 10 full-time and 10 part-time employees, equally weighted between male and female, all of whom are black and four of whom are disabled. “I’ve always wanted to show people that a woman can run a successful business,” she says.
Returning to grassroots
While Ntokozo comes from a family of nature lovers, it took her a few years to return to her roots. The headstrong entrepreneur started her first company when she was 21 – a graphic design and digital printing business operating in KZN’s KwaMashu and Mzinyathi areas, while studying toward a BSc in psychology.
In 2009, she undertook a wildlife filmmaking and conservation course offered by the Natural History Unit of Africa out of the Kruger National Park. “It helped me grow my skills and develop my knowledge about nature and the environment.” With a renewed passion for all things wild and green, the idea for a new business took seed and was sparked after her mother lamented about the lack of hands-on agricultural training for youth.
“We pooled our resources, including my mother’s vast skills in agriculture, to come up with a company that is fit to compete with the best in the industry. I then gathered the necessary experience through training offered at various accredited originations, including AgriSeta, Services Seta, the Small Enterprise Development Agency and KZN’s Agribusiness Development Agency.”
Ntokozo also participates in the SAB Foundation’s Tholoana Enterprise Programme to help develop her business. The support programme offers mentorship, business development workshops and seed funding. Applications for this programme are open until 30 September and all South African small business owners may apply.
Planning during a pandemic
Like all SMEs, Ntozakhe Social Development has been hard impacted by Covid-19. “We couldn’t meet clients and hold practical training with learners,” Ntokozo explains. “We had to quickly adapt and learn to communicate via webinars. We’re just taking it step-by-step for now and waiting for things to return to ‘normal’.”
The young entrepreneur has been using the time in lockdown to plan her next steps. “In the long-term, we have plans to take our agribusiness training model international. In the short-term, we’re looking at building a laboratory on site and invest in a much-needed systems upgrade.”
Importantly, future plans focus heavily on drawing more youth to the agricultural sector. “We’re focusing on building networks to reach more youth, mainly via social media, to get them interested in agri-business. We want to empower disadvantaged youth, particularly disabled youth, unemployed matriculants, youth at risk, girls and rural youth. We see this business as a tool to change lives for the better.”