Female agriculturalists are making a significant impact as they drive South Africa’s industry forward, as Nto Motloung, Phindile Msomi and Andile Matukane show.
Life isn’t easy for small farmers. With large players well established, it’s a challenge to gain access to funds, land and even market opportunities – even more so if you’re female. That’s ironic because, as Nto Motloung of Ntozakhe Social Development points out: “Looking at the rural communities, it’s almost always women who are responsible for managing the fields and making sure that people are growing quality crops.”
Phindile Msomi, who founded Hazile Group Holdings with her daughter Fezile, puts this into sharper focus: “Women account for as much as 43% of South Africans who farm in rural areas, whether through their ownership of backyard farms that provide food for children, or by working on farms to earn a living.” Phindile’s own experiences are typical of the challenges faced by women. Both herself and Fezile are currently trying to secure funding for a second farm but, she says, there is a strong perception that women farmers don’t have what it takes to make it.
Yet Phindile’s track record is juxtaposed to this perception. Her interest in agriculture was piqued after participating in a UN Summit on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, where attention was drawn to the issue of food security.
“I left with a question in mind: what can I do to improve the lives of Africans and ensure that affordable, healthy food is available to all?” she recalls.
Since then, her company has established operations in agriculture (including urban farming and hydroponics, crop farming on land and agro-processing), water renewable energy and water and waste management – and is now looking to build a packhouse so that it is able to supply retailers like Pick n Pay and Spar which, increasingly, are looking to give small farmers an outlet.
Opportunities like this have also been welcomed by Andile Matukane of Farmers Choice. Andile explains that she joined the agriculture industry out of a desire to “be different to everyone else” – and it was while studying the subject that her passion grew.
Starting out wasn’t easy, she admits: “Farming might look simple, but it’s not. As a startup, I struggled to lease a farm. I had to dig into my personal savings to get started and the venture’s sustainability looked dubious at first. It was all the more difficult because I didn’t have a mentor. What’s more, the industry requires players to possess certain certifications before they can access some parts of the market and, as a startup, it’s hard to obtain these.” Determined to smooth the path for other farmers, Farmers Choice offers agricultural services including mentoring, training and development, land preparation and harvesting.
Andile notes that changes have taken place within the industry and this is making it easier for female farmers who have followed in her footsteps. At the moment, more people are trying to lend women farmers a helping hand, she says. But, in many cases, this isn’t enough. “We need to provide more assistance to primary farmers. It would also be helpful to make more bursaries available for young people, and to train and upskill them.”
This is where Ntozakhe Social Development has a role to play. Nto started the entity with her mother, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a teacher of agricultural studies. After her mother drew her attention to the lack of practical agricultural training available for the youth, she completed a number of courses with AgriSETA, the Services SETA and the Small Enterprise Development Association and started her enterprise. Nto is now looking forward to seeing Ntozakhe Social Development flourish into an international agricultural academy, offering tools and placements for all types of farming. “Agriculture is one industry which will never fade away. It plays a huge role in our country’s economy and in our food security,” says Nto.
In the meantime, the industry is in interesting space, according to Phindile. “Covid-19 presented both opportunities and challenges for small farmers: while some of our clients, such as restaurants, fell away because of lockdown, we also saw increased demand for our crops; probably because large retailers struggled to maintain stock levels while still complying to regulations pertaining to staff limits.”
Although demand for food is obviously something that will never go away, it doesn’t guarantee small farmers a spot inside a retailer. On the whole, though, the outlook for agriculture is positive. “The sector has been able to sustain and create jobs during a tumultuous economic time. Globally, more and more people are choosing fresh fruit and vegetables as part of their staple diet, and we can improve both their health and their quality of life by providing these on an international scale,” Phindile concludes.
Author: Lisa Witepski