Dr Nolwazi Mkize is Corteva Agriscience’s stewardship lead for Africa Middle East. She is based in Pretoria, South Africa, but serves throughout the Africa and Middle East region.
Nolwazi clearly loves the work she does and eagerly talks about her journey to Corteva Agriscience, the new Agriculture Division of DowDuPont.
“All the fun started with entomology when Prof. Martin Villet (Rhodes University, Grahamstown) partnered with Prof Sam Wallade (Fort Hare University, Alice) by introducing the subject to me. Eventually, I ended up finishing my PhD in entomology (on olive pests) at Rhodes University.
“I then worked as a researcher at ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plants where I extended my knowledge of various potato pests. Later I worked as a regulatory manager both in government and the private sector for a total of 11 years. Recently, I joined a stewardship leadership group within Corteva AgriScience.”
How does a company such as Corteva Agriscience ensure a workplace environment where there is equal opportunity and support for everyone?
“Corteva AgriScience has excellent leaders that always try to deliver on their promises. Corteva inspires and engages female leaders to grow in their roles and move forward, but not at the expense of others.”
Nolwazi is no stranger to working hard to better her circumstances.
“Succeeding in my career is a must and not an option. I’m from Mdatsane in the Eastern Cape, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. I consider myself a testimony to the fact that your background alone does not determine your future. Most importantly, I owe it to my late mother and grandmother, whose hard work to raise me wasn’t in vain, and to God.”
Asked about obstacles, Nolwazi immediately turns the discussion to the positive.
“I have a natural gift to always look for solutions rather than problems, and someone recognised that. Being a young black woman in the agriculture sector, I had to work harder than my peers to find my place, but that was not a big problem as it’s second nature to me to work hard and find a way to reach my goals.”
Of course, there are challenges, and some days are more difficult than others. “It’s hard when we have an excellent solution at our fingertips for farmers, but we cannot provide the solution to them on time due to delays beyond our control as a company.”
Focusing on solutions has its reward. “As an employee, the satisfaction comes when I receive a call or email from an exporter/grower/farmer or colleague and I’m able to provide a sustainable solution for their daily problems or challenges.
As a mother, my day is made when I get a smile from my kids when I tell them what I did that day for farmers.”
Nolwazi is not afraid to get her hands and boots dirty to understand the challenges of Corteva’s customers better.
“Constant dialogue with regional or local farmers helps us understand the agricultural practices on those farms. As these practices are constantly changing and farmers communicate them internally, this does come with its own challenges, but it’s part of my job to figure this out.”
She would encourage young people to consider a career in agriculture.
“Poverty is real, and if we want to fight it, agriculture is more effective than other sectors,” she says.
“Agriculture in the developing world has become a vibrant field with effective innovations. A career in this sector comes with a lot of hard work and attention to detail, so it needs someone who has a positive attitude and is passionate and willing to be in the field and learn.”
Betty Kiplagat is Corteva’s government affairs leader for Africa and the Middle East. Her passion for the law and, later, agriculture, have equipped her well to interact with a wide range of agricultural role players, both government and private.
With her office situated in Nairobi, Kenya, Betty Kiplagat uses her 18 years’ experience in the agriculture sector to interact with policymakers, government officials, farmers and industry players.
“My role as government affairs leader for Africa and the Middle East is linked to my training and work experience,” she says.
“Corteva Agriscience, the new Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, has quite a number of female leaders, and this is a clear indication that they strive to ensure gender balance throughout their recruitment and promotion process.”
But it was not company policy that motivated her to excel at her job or follow this career path.
“My parents encouraged all of us to study hard and be available to take up challenges that would push us to new horizons. Well, I did, and I’m glad I studied law because it still applies in agriculture. I would otherwise still be practising mainstream law,” she says.
Kiplagat has not encountered any significant gender-based obstacles during her successful career within the agriculture sector.
“To be honest, I’m lucky because I’ve been in the agriculture sector for a long time, so I’ve had progressive growth.”
The main challenges, she says, are industry-related. For example, she finds herself “not being able to convince policymakers that the policies they make have an impact on people’s livelihoods”.
Another frustration is not being able to bring advanced technologies to the farmers due to restrictive policies.
The upside to fighting the good fight, she says, is the satisfaction she gets from playing a part in feeding the world.
“Knowing that what we do helps a farmer feed his family and the nation puts a smile on my face because, let’s face it, all our food comes from agriculture.”
Staying connected with Corteva’s clients is important to Kiplagat.
“I work closely with the business to understand the goals they’ve set. This enables me to develop goals that will help the business achieve its objective. For me, this includes reaching out to government and industry to highlight policy issues that might hinder the objective of also serving the small-scale farmer.”
Women in agriculture
Would she encourage girls to consider a career in science or agriculture?
“I’m not a scientist, but I encourage young girls to look at agriculture with a different mindset,” she says.
“There are many ways they can contribute to this sector: as a lawyer, financial expert, human resources officer or IT specialist, among others. The list is very long, and unless they know of the possibilities that exist in the sector, they’ll tend to shy away.”
When you meet Linda van der Merwe, Corteva Agriscience’s marketing lead for Africa and the Middle East, you soon realise that things will happen with speed and professionalism.
Linda joined Corteva Agriscience, the new Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, in 2018, and oversees marketing activities for seed, crop protection, seed-applied technologies and digital.
Her 18 years of experience in various corporate marketing and communications positions, of which 16 were at agricultural companies, give her the edge when it comes to understanding the industry and connecting with farmers and big corporate clients.
“I have a postgraduate degree in marketing and my work experience over the past 18 years includes corporate and product strategic management, marketing strategies and execution for above- and below-the-line advertising campaigns. I’ve also been involved in customer engagement, customer-relationship management, communication and events,” she said.
Linda is based at Corteva’s Africa Middle East head office in Centurion, Gauteng. Her work requires considerable travel to meet with colleagues and clients of Corteva elsewhere in South Africa, East African countries, Morocco and Egypt.
“Due to the nature of my role, I also have a lot of interaction with colleagues in the US as well as Europe.”
Linda is pleased that merit and hard work are both recognised at Corteva and continual development is encouraged.
“Corteva embraces diversity at all levels and it’s evident in the organisation across different business functions. Learning and development is part of the strategic agenda, and focused training is also offered to employees,” she says.
Her main driving force is to succeed in her job of providing a service to farmers.
“Farmers in Africa face great challenges that most of the general public is not aware of. We simply cannot live without farmers. My inspiration is to support them in their noble calling, however small my contribution might be.”
Overcoming gender-based obstacles were part of Linda’s early career. “When I started out in the industry, it was a challenge to be taken seriously as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated environment. It’s such a cliché but it’s true!”
Having children has been one of her great joys in life, but being a working mother has its challenges, and she is “extremely grateful for a solid support system at home”.
According to her, the most satisfying part of her daly is when she engages with Corteva’s customers and learn about their own challenges and successes.
“To really know and understand what they’re going through every day and looking for opportunities where we can support or make a change, makes it all worth it. It’s important to ensure that we are in touch with farmers and grower organisations, understand their challenges, develop the right product for a specific need or challenge on the farm, and strive to be up to date with what’s happening in the marketplace.”
Helping the next generation
Why would Linda encourage young girls to consider a career in science or agriculture?
“It’s important to play a role in securing the future of the current generation and the next one. The agriculture sector offers a world of different career options: research, finance, breeding, human resources, sales, supply chain, business development, marketing, digital development and more,” she says.
Suzan Antonio Aziz is Corteva’s country regulatory manager for North East Africa and the Middle East. She operates out of Cairo in Egypt.
Antonio Aziz has been working in the regulatory field since 2008, and joined Dow in 2015. Her work at Corteva Agriscience, the new Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, involves preparing and delivering data packages optimised for a country’s requirements.
“I also work with several teams to complete tasks related to finance, marketing, biology and legal matters,” she explains.
Corteva’s equal-opportunity workplace allows women to grow and develop in a supportive environment.
“At Corteva, women have the same job opportunities, benefits and promotional prospects as men. We respect working hours but are given maternity leave and time off for breast-feeding babies. We have very supportive leaders, and Corteva appreciates it if we go the extra mile” says Antonio Aziz.
Passion and inspiration
“When I meet working mothers who became leaders in their field, it always gives me the push to continue delivering the best and to believe that I can make it too,” she says.
The most challenging aspect of her job is balancing her time. She schedules tasks to achieve the maximum output every day, but also sets time aside for learning and developing.
“I have to achieve customer satisfaction, but find I can do this without working overtime or at weekends. I also have to cope with the different cultures in my region. Through all of this, I never lose my passion, even in the most difficult times,” she says.
Antonio Aziz finds great satisfaction in fulfilling customers’ needs, supporting requests, achieving planned goals, and sharing solutions and her expertise with her teams.
She encourages young girls to roll up their sleeves and consider a career in the agricultural sector.
“If you have passion and dedication, nothing will stop you. It’ll require a lot of work and effort, and it may take time, but you’ll get the right chance at the right time. My advice to you is not to listen to negative messages. Focus on your passion.”