The first crop of female farmers has completed the first phase of Momentum Metropolitan Foundation’s Women in Farming programme in Pietermaritzburg. This programme seeks to upskill and integrate the young farmers into value chains, in the process stimulating rural food security and local economies. Robyn Joubert reports on an initiative that’s tapping into agriculture for the greater good.
It was smiles all round in September as a vibrant intake of 60 female agripreneurs from KwaZulu-Natal celebrated their graduation from phase one of Momentum Metropolitan Foundation’s (MMF’s) Women in Farming programme. This three-year incubator in Pietermaritzburg aims to enhance their skills, empowering them to build production – and boost rural food security and employment.
Nontokozo Mdletshe, a 26-year-old farmer from Mtubatuba, joined the programme to grow not only as a young woman in farming, but to grow her business through new knowledge and skills.
“One of the highlights of the programme was to see 60 young women in farming embracing agriculture as a pathway to self-sustainable communities and successful businesses. We are not just involved in the agricultural sector as job seekers but as employers who are going to create job opportunities for others. Another highlight was finding out that agriculture is not just about farming and getting dirty in the fields – there is so much more to it,” says Nontokozo.
The Women in Farming programme was launched in 2022 by MMF in partnership with Agri Enterprises (Agri SA’s commercial arm) and Umgibe Farming Organics and Training.
Tshego Bokaba, CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan, says the programme is 100% women-focused. “The programme is designed to provide capacity-building and business skills to black female-owned enterprises in agriculture. This journey helps develop these enterprises into sustainable businesses, through providing platforms that encourage access to market.”
The participants were selected from hundreds of applicants who were already producing in rural areas. Training was held in Wartburg at Umgibe, a black-owned agricultural training and development enterprise.
Sulaimaan Patel, head of Rural Development and Social Investment at Agri Enterprises, says small-scale farmers are the backbone of rural economies.
“To financially and economically stimulate the rural landscape in South Africa, significant investments need to be made in developmental agriculture. Having said that, Momentum has played a key role in developing young female farmers to drive agricultural development in rural KwaZulu-Natal.”
Phase one covers training in areas such as mental wellness and analysis; poultry and vegetable farming; agri-business management; agricultural marketing and market access; pests, diseases and weed control; and soil fertility and plant nutrition.
Agri Enterprises provides technical support and on-site evaluations to guide the women as they apply their new knowledge and skills within their own businesses. After this, Agri Enterprises and Umgibe determine the business viability of each enterprise.
“Some farmers may require further training to reach their full potential while others will proceed to the next phase,” says Tshego.
Phase two moves from training and education to start-up, where qualifying farmers gain access to working capital, advanced soft skills development and comprehensive mentorship. At the end of the programme, graduates are invited to become part of the Pietermaritzburg Agri network, qualifying as contracted traders on Umgibe.
“Participants are strategically exposed to market access opportunities – something that they identified as being a gap in their business journeys. Increased access allows them to grow their enterprises, which – in turn – will create new employment opportunities in their respective communities, with food security, health and environmental benefits part and parcel,” says Tshego.
Nontokozo, who is farming with crops and rabbits in Pietermaritzburg and holds a BSc Agriculture Honours from the University of Zululand, is already part of the Umgibe network, having completed a Business Development Course there in 2021.
“The programme is teaching me how to run a stable and successful business while also sharing this knowledge with others through skills development and training.
“As I am already part of the Umgibe Farmers Association, my success is almost guaranteed,” says Nontokozo.
Another participant, 31-year-old Khanyisile Zulu from the Nqutu Maduladula region, said the highlights of phase one were learning about horticulture and poultry production, as well as how to put together a business plan.
“I also learned how to have a good mindset,” says Khanyisile. Khanyisile studied community development at eLangeni College in 2014; and in 2019 started her own small poultry business in eNquthu as a means to support herself and her daughter.
“There is a lack of job opportunities in this area. I was at home in Nqutu with a small child and I was not receiving any income other than a grant. Using this grant, I started buying 40 chicks and cultivating them to full grown chickens and selling them. My life then started changing because I was able to build a chicken house for 300 chickens.”
Khanyisile does not have business partners and runs the business on her own. “Umgibe supports my business by providing the mentorship, incubation and training that I need to grow my business.”
Khanyisile is incubated at Umgibe’s 50ha farm in Albert Falls. “The farm produces butternut and maize on 20ha, chillies on 1ha, and 2 000 broiler chickens. I am leasing one chicken house on the farm to grow my poultry business.
“My dream is to see my farm grow and make a sustainable living, and to create jobs for youth, especially in our rural area in Nqutu. There are few people in the poultry businesses in Nqutu and poultry is in high demand,” says Khanyisile.
Both young women are interested not only in growing their own businesses, but trans ferring their knowledge to others.
“As I gain experience through training and being exposed to other agriculture spheres, I can pass on this knowledge to young farmers and the broader community, to create new job opportunities and an alternative livelihood for woman and youth,” says Khanyisile.
Now that she has finished phase one, Nontokozo’s plan is to build sales in her business and to make a positive social impact in the communities around her.
“I am currently involved as a trainer, working with communities to establish food security through community gardens. I also work with different organisations and schools in Pietermaritzburg.”
Nontokozo is leasing to buy a 1.3ha farm in Prestbury, in Pietermaritzburg, where she farms rabbits and organic herbs and vege tables. Her crops include spinach, lettuce, kale, beetroot, peppers, cabbage, onions and tomatoes; while she sells rabbits to the pet market and to a youth coop that breeds rabbits for meat purposes.
She is also a member of Umquba Youth Agricultural Coop, which leases 1ha from Umgibe in Wartburg and grows organic butternut, yellow maize and sorghum.
“My vision is for the Prestbury farm to become a demonstration site for organic agricultural skills development and training. Teaching people new skills is important to me.
The aim is to build more entrepreneurs; not job seekers,” says Nontokozo. It has however been a struggle to obtain funding, says Nontokozo, who resigned from a wellpaying job at Mahlathini development foundation in Pietermaritzburg in January 2022 to pursue farming.
“I started my business with R150 from my own pocket. I bought six tyres with R50 to use as planters and a variety of seedlings with R100. Thereafter I received some help from two private sponsors, by way of seeds, seedling trays, a small water tank, garden tools and a Wendy house.
“I’ve never received funding by way of money but I won’t lose hope. I need funding to expand and grow my business.”
Little to no access to funding and credit is just one of a range of issues that inhibits the growth of developing farmers. Smallscale farmers tend to get the sharp end of the stick, facing a range of obstacles including lack of infrastructure, theft, minimal intervention from government, and access to markets and market pricing.
Nkosinathi Mahlangu, Youth Employment Portfolio head at MMF, said agriculture presented an opportunity to empower African women by equipping them with entre preneurial skills to start their own businesses.
“Millions of women living in rural and remote areas sit on the sidelines of our economy. We believe that by giving women tools, advice and experiences, we can empower them to be unstoppable in their pursuit of success,” said Nkosinathi.
IN YOUR WORDS
HAVE YOU FACED ANY MAJOR STRUGGLES IN YOUR FARMING CAREER?
Nontokozo: Yes. Young, upcoming farmers like myself face many challenges while trying to start their farming journey. These include access to land, financial support or start-up capital, relevant skills and knowledge, adequate labour, marketing access and experience.
Khanyisile: In a rural area there is less information available. With poultry, as the chickens grow they require more space, so I need the resources to build big chicken houses to accommodate more chickens, in order to serve all my customers.
DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO ASPIRING YOUNG FARMERS?
Nontokozo: They should stand up, look for opportunities, start small with what they have, and grow from there. When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage, passion and willingness to change and step out from our comfort zone. At such moments, stay focused on your vision and goals, stand firm and keep going. The challenge will not wait for you while you cry – being in business is about being bold and taking calculated risks, but make sure you don’t gamble.
Khanyisile: The world is going to war and food is becoming scarce so think about creating your own business or agricultural cooperative. Education is key to success. Start doing something productive for yourself. We young people have to stand up and start doing our own thing, especially in agriculture, to create more job opportunities.
WHAT ASSISTANCE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FROM GOVERNMENT?
Nontokozo: Government should support young female farmers in every way possible and not just by hosting summits. They can help with regards to gender-specific obstacles (gender bias in the economic system). For example, women are seen as “below” men. This limits a woman’s access to land and credit. Cultural norms and lack of collateral often prevent women from entering and growing in the farming industry. My advice to female entrepreneurs out there is to be fearless, take the risk, nurture and be your best you.
Khanyisile: I would like government assistance with funding for equipment that is vital to my business, such as chicken houses and watering systems.
WHO WAS THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE IN YOUR DECISION TO FARM?
Nontokozo: My mother. She forced me to choose the agricultural stream in grade 10 and I cried because I wanted to do accounting. I didn’t know that agriculture is more than just going to the field early in the morning so we could have something to eat. I realise now there is so much more to it. My farming journey has been the most challenging yet exciting journey. I would like to pass my gratitude to everyone in my support system.
Khanyisile: My late father. He was a commercial crop farmer. He taught us that farming is a way of life and a business. I worked with him in the fields and I realised that I love animals more than crops. He encouraged me to do what I enjoy and supported my decision to start a poultry business.