Hats off to women in agriculture!

In this segment, we speak to women in various industries of the agriculture sector about the challenges they face, and what they look forward to for the future of their businesses.

Hats off to women in agriculture!
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Joandra Cloete Greegory
Owner, Our Poultry Palace (broilers),
Joostenberg Vlakte, Western Cape

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
Agriculture was never my choice; it chose me. I guess you can call it destiny. We often live our lives thinking that a certain career path is what you want, but I am very sure agriculture is where I need to be. It is a very humble industry and while everyone in it will tell you that you need to have ‘hair on your teeth’ to succeed, you really need to have the heart for it.

Please explain your role in the business.
I am a Jack of all trades! I’m the owner, founder and farmer.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
There is nothing a woman can’t do, but I think our biggest challenge in the industry is that we very often get undermined, and our ability gets questioned.

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If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
I would commercialise production, buy a farm and expand my operations. I would build a training centre to train women farmers, and equip them with the know-how to run successful operations. I would open some retail stores where we can sell directly to consumers.

What are your future plans?
To grow, create opportunities for the youth in the agricultural space, support women-owned businesses and train as many future commercial farmers as possible nationwide.


Cecilia Nthabiseng Ngcobo
Owner, Fulela Fuze Enterprise (vegetables)
Soweto, Gauteng

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
The passion and love of planting, getting myself involved in those natural colours; it renews me holistically, it’s like therapy in a way. I currently produce peppers, cabbage, spinach and mustard spinach.

Please explain your role in the business.
I am the manager, director, bookkeeper, and marketer, as well as the producer!

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
My biggest challenge so far has been funding or sponsorship. Even bigger problems are land and water.

Given R30 million to invest, what would you spend it on?
I would buy more land, build greenhouses, establish an irrigation system, dig a borehole and buy all the equipment I need to expand production. I would implement more security and create employment opportunities.

What are your future plans?
I see myself becoming a commercial farmer who produces fresh, high-quality and first-grade produce.

What advice would you give new farmers?
Don’t be afraid to start farming. Don’t fear the unknown, and commit yourself to your business.


Tracey Devonport
Owner, Devlan Limousins (cattle)
Vaal dam, Gauteng

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
Whilst searching for a small piece of land next to a river or dam for recreational purposes, we were introduced to a businessman-cum-farmer who already owned 200ha on the dam. The bug bit, and that was 33 years ago. Our love of nature, the Earth and animals has just continued.

Please explain your role in your organisation/company?
Our company has two facets, farming and financial services. I’ve been blessed to be in the Financial Services section as my day job, but have always been involved in strategic decisions, purchases and providing capital from my company. Staff and their welfare has also been my passion. My motherly concern for all the people and animals on the farm is well felt.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
Farming is always challenging. It’s a biological asset battered by unpredictability, diseases, skill shortages, escalating costs and climate change. You need courage to farm. You need to be competitive, sustainable and make a profit. It’s no easy call.
Right now, one struggles to get all animal vaccines and medicines. You cannot export because of foot-and-mouth disease, and roads and potholes destroys one’s cars, trucks, and equipment, and Eskom blackouts affect irrigation and farm productivity.
Input costs are terrifying and it’s difficult to train, skill up and keep good staff. There are few courses to attend that are meaningful for the new farmer. There is a lack of extension officers and mentors.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
Although our lands are paid off over 30-plus years and our infrastructure is built up, just like most farmers, we are frugal. Our equipment – trucks, harvesters, tractors, and planters – need updating. Its hugely expensive based on the weakness of the rand. I’d invest here to make everyone’s life easier. Then the next step for our farm would be an abattoir and meat-processing plant. This would need to be built from scratch to enter the local, free-range and export markets. An investment in commercial weaners would complete the purchase.

What do you look forward to for the future of your business?
I love using cattle to regenerate the pastures, with high-intensity strip grazing (and solar-powered electric fences). This saves enormously on chemical fertilisers, improves soils and also, raises the carrying capacity. We are hoping to fully complete the cattle production cycle by focusing on all aspects of their production, and also researching offshore markets to ‘dollar-base’ our income.


Prof Cheryl McCrindle
Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Gauteng

What inspired you to become a livestock veterinarian?
My folks told me I was set on becoming an animal doctor when I was three years old. By 10, I wanted to be a cowgirl on a large ranch. At veterinary school I got the highest marks when livestock was the focus. After I qualified, I found my best way to relax was to milk a Jersey cow and gallop my pony over to the neighbours to treat sick sheep, goats and cattle. Later I found myself working with livestock and researching diseases in the livestock sector, developing a fascination for affordable livestock farming and food security in the small-scale sector: poultry, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle. The older I got, the more I leaned towards academia and researched better ways to improve food safety and increase productivity.

What are you most proud of with regards to South Africa’s veterinary industry?
Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty is world renowned for research and its graduates are employed worldwide, not only for livestock, but also for wildlife management.

What are the biggest challenges for women in the industry?
Originally there were many barriers: only 10% of vets could be women. Prof Malie Smuts was the first woman to get her PhD, but she had to do research on camels’ anatomy in Egypt. In 1996 I was the second woman to get a PhD.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
Revamping vaccine production!

What would you like to see changed in the agriculture sector?
I would like to see more cost-effective integrated agricultural systems, and gardens in cities that produce edible crops and vegetables and also clean the air through photosynthesis.


Selinah Khutso Ntjana
Owner, Selinah the Goat Agri (goats)
Dendron, Limpopo

What inspired you to get into agriculture?
I saw that agriculture can be an important engine of growth and poverty reduction; the contribution of women to agriculture and food production is significant but it is impossible to verify empirically the share produced by women. Women’s participation in the rural labour market varies considerably across regions but, invariably, women are represented in unpaid, seasonal and part-time work and the available evidence suggests they are often paid less than men for the same work. This shows that women are making an essential contribution to agriculture and rural enterprises across the developing world.
As a women in livestock farming I decided to farm goats. I saw the importance of goat’s milk and meat for people’s health. My children and I had a skin problem (eczema) and are lactose-intolerant, and therefore I did a research on goat’s milk and its benefits. I found that goat’s milk can be a cure for me and my family’s problem. I then made a lotion with goat’s milk and we tried it at home and it worked very well. I also wrote a bedtime story book to teach children through their parents about the important of goats. This is my inspiration in farming, especially with goats.

Please explain your role in the company.
I am the director of the company, performing the following functions:

  • Planning the direction of the company and taking decisions;
  • Taking care of health management of goats on daily basis;
  • Production of goat’s milk skin products (lotions and soaps); and
  • Researching and writing children’s books about goats.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
Lack of funding is the most challenging part in this sector. Land is also a problem; hence we as women are unable to excel to the best of our ability.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would spend it on?
I would spend it on buying land and erecting fencing, purchasing relevant equipment for successful farming; purchasing goats for milk and meat production; and employing local women to empower them through training and skills transfer.

What are your future plans?
I am applying for funding from financial service providers for the acquisition of land and equipment. I also plan to establish a training centre to teach people about the importance of goats, and the management of goats, even in communal areas. I would like to establish my own factory to produce the skin range of products made with goat’s milk. Next would be the acquisition of additional goat’s milk so as to produce more products in-house. I require funding to pursue my interest in research about goats, and would like to continue writing books for children.


Stefani Botha
Owner, Scarlet Dexter stud (cattle)
Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
Agriculture is a challenging environment with many variables that require adaptability and determination. No two days on the farm is the same. I flourish in such conditions and since I was raised in an agricultural setting, I understand the difficulties and the rewards. It naturally helps that I have an endless love for animals.

Please explain your role in your business.
I am a 50% partner in Scarlet Dexter Stud. My duties include animal welfare, animal health, record-keeping, registration of stud animals, grazing and feeding management, show management, marketing and breeding strategies.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
Apart from the obvious challenges such as education, the retaining of skills and land issues, women are often not taken seriously. Within agriculture, the farming activities women engage in are usually seen as a ‘hobby’ and not a career. But in every vegetable garden or chicken pen there is the potential of a business, and in essence farming is the application of basic business principles. The list of challenges may be overwhelming, but there are real examples of women who saw a small window of opportunity within the challenge, and turned their ‘hobby’ into a profitable business. That is what we need to focus on.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
Dexters are such a versatile dual-purpose breed, suitable for farming on small fragments of land, that it can be a self-sustaining and business development option to a wide variety of stakeholders. I would like to believe that ‘mother instinct’ is a benefit and that women tending to animals on a daily basis develop a natural sense for the animal’s needs. I would therefore use the money to establish Dexter academies, providing theoretical and practical training on all aspects of Dexter farming. Development and empowerment would ultimately be a tangible investment into the future of our industry.

What does the future look like for your business?
We are currently investing in and researching winter fodder feed as well as high-yielding summer feeds, together with easy operational irrigation systems to support the statement that you do not need a large farm to successfully breed small-frame cattle like the Dexter breed. This practice will enable upcoming farmers in various conditions to not only supply their own households with both beef and dairy products, but to actively partake in the business of cattle breeding on small holdings and provide themselves with a sustainable income.


Regina Harmse
Owner, RCH Ile de France Stud (sheep)
Ermelo, Mpumalanga

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
I grew up on a farm, and as children we were always involved in the farming activities. We as girls didn’t help our mother with house chores, but were busy on a tractor, harvesting, or busy with sheep or cattle. So farming is in my blood. The most important and only aspect of farming is that it’s the source of the world’s food supply. This is the most important career you can choose. No matter where or what you are eating, the ingredients in your meals came from somewhere, and I can be part of the production of that.

Please explain your role in the business.
I am the owner and caretaker of the RCH Ile de France Stud as well as the commercial sheep and cattle. The main difference between the stud breeding and commercial production is that the stud side is far more intensive, requiring much more time and attention to detail. One example is to keep records of each stud ewe and stud ram, from the time they were born. The focus falls on breeding superior animals for our own use as well as the availability of genetic material to fellow breeders and commercial farmers. What the commercial side concerns, it’s the production of high-quality slaughter animals.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
I never wanted to say this out loud, as I was always treated well by my fellow farmers and men in general, but as in any other profession dominated by men, women have to work so much harder to show they have the necessary skills to be successful.
The work women do as farmers is often considered to be part of their husband’s business and their contributions are seen as secondary, lacking self-driven initiative and also expected chores. I want to urge every young girl, don’t let that discourage you, and I want to salute every man who treats a female farmer as an equal. We don’t want to lose our femininity, we just want to live our dream and calling. Then, we as women also face the same challenges as all the other farmers: OBP [Onderstepoort Biological Products] that doesn’t provide the necessary vaccines needed for our animals, high input costs, low  prices for our products, and potential farm attacks, as well as not everyone acknowledging that every meal consumed was produced by a farmer, and that farmers are needed.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
Ile de France sheep, more Ile de France sheep and then some more Ile de France sheep!

What are your future plans?
To farm as well as I can, for as long as I can.


Thashni Manjoo
Farm Manager, Roadway farms (vegetables)
Albert Falls, KwaZulu-Natal

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
I grew up on a family farm in Albert Falls, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). I was a rough-and-tumble kid, always covered in dirt from spending most of my time outside. My late father was the most patient, kind, informative tutor when it came to the workings of the world. He taught me how much of the world is alive, and how it’s our job to respect and protect the things that humans usually take advantage of. When I grew up I studied marketing and moved to Johannesburg, and had an active digital marketing career for 10 years.
When the 2020 pandemic hit, I felt the need to come back to Pietermaritzburg to look after my family on the ground here. It was around the same time that my dear friend, Shakti Satyapal, took over his father’s vegetable farm, Roadway Farms, also in Albert Falls. I started volunteering, which very quickly transformed into a full-time job and a pivotal career change.

Please explain your role in the business.
I am Shakti’s 2IC on the ground. I help manage the farm and the staff on a daily basis. I am involved from the planning phase to the execution for harvest, planting, regenerative agriculture initiatives, staff management, and everything in between. I also run deliveries when need be as well as assist and run the sales, marketing and social media platforms for the business. These platforms have done increasingly well for us. Shakti and I have been featured in multiple newspaper articles, I have been on two television shows (Dining and Vibing in SA and Clover Krush’s Unlock Your 100%). We believe in sharing our message and learnings as we go and this lives on through our marketing.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
It’s been tough to be taken seriously as a young woman in agriculture. It’s weird, the labour force for agriculture is majority female, however the industry is still dominated by men. I have been incredibly lucky that Shakti, his father and the entire team have done everything in their power to uplift and empower me. I was taught that your attitude is your best ally; not being taken seriously in the industry at first only means that I needed to work harder. My biggest challenge is not gender-specific, it is that of climate change. The erratic, extreme weather patterns have caused devastation and destruction on a mass scale for us.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
Roadway Farms is a vegetable farm in transition to a regenerative agriculture future, and this means a huge focus on soil health. With everything we do on the farm, we apply the regenerative principles as much as we can while in this transitional period. We hope to create an agribusiness of the future that can be used as a blueprint for other farmers to create a more sustainable farming model. With R30 million, the immediate priority would be to stabilise the business financially.

Due to the consecutive setbacks that the farm has suffered (COVID-19, KZN riots and looting, extended rainy periods, floods, economic volatility and load-shedding) we are now in a fragile financial state and in dire need of funding to ensure continued employment of all our staff members and to keep the farm gates open for business. Therefore, our primary short-term goal is to unlock the full potential of the farm, so that we can optimise on value creation for the business, and our care-holders. The initial investment would go towards upgrading machinery, purchasing implements, building infrastructure, investing in our soil biology, increasing irrigation capacity, and maximising cultivation of our fields.

We also want to share our learnings and story in the hopes of bringing more public and governmental attention to agriculture and what we do. This is our very best opportunity and hope of minimising the catastrophic effects of total climate destabilisation.

What does the future look like?
My future plans are aligned with the above to bring Roadway Farms to being a strong, reputable agribusiness of the future. My personal goals are to educate, empower and assist other young females on the cusp of the industry. I would not be here if I did not have individuals willing to teach me; education and giving back is a huge part of my own and the farm’s ethos. I have funnily developed the nickname ‘Farm Barbie’ on the farm. I would like to grow this persona as an ambassador for young women in agriculture. Farm Barbie can have pretty nails and pretty hair, but she is not afraid to get her hands dirty and get deep into whatever work needs to be done.

What is some advice you can offer new and emerging women farmers?
There are loud voices telling young women what they can and can’t do. My advice is to listen to your gut, your heart, and your mind together. If your intention is good, there is nothing stopping you. It’s going to take a lot of work, hours, blood, sweat and tears, but the reward is unimaginable. We are healthy food suppliers, Earth protectors, and necessary for society to function. Our role is an important one, so if you believe your hands are green, be resilient, be strong, be loud, and fight for what you want.


Kim Dixon
Admin & Marketing, JHB Tractor Spares

What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
It was a family business. I grew up being very involved and hearing about how the business worked, knowing the staff, and meeting suppliers and customers. It was a natural progression from the corporate world back to family.

Please explain your role in the business.
I keep everything running as smooth as possible in marketing and administration. I’m a bit like the oil that lubricates the gears.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in agriculture?
Breaking new ground. Going places where women have traditionally not been allowed before.

If you were given R30 million to invest in the industry, what would you spend it on?
There is a huge opportunity right now in the solar energy space.

What does the future look like?
There are enormous challenges in South Africa right now. To survive in a harsh climate, you need to be on top of your game. You must be aware of what is happening and be ready to change and adapt. Be willing to work hard and give 100%.