Growing the expertise and level of skills at Corteva Agriscience™, the new agriculture division of DowDuPont™ across the world, includes tapping into the skills and expertise of women working across disciplines in the agricultural sector. To celebrate international Women’s Day (8 March), four women working for Corteva in Africa and the Middle East tell more about their work, challenges and inspiration.
STATING THE FARMER’S CASE
Betty Kiplagat is Corteva’s Government Affairs Leader Africa and Middle East. Her passion for the law and later agriculture, gives her some unique abilities to interact with farmers, policy makers and officials from government and industry.
With her office situated in Nairobi, Kenya this lawyer by trade uses her 18 years’ experience in the agricultural sector to interact with policy makers, government officials, farmers and industry players.
“My role as GA leader for Africa Middle East is linked to my training and work experience. 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 Betty to excel at her job of follow this career path.
“My parents who encouraged all of us to study hard and to be available to take up challenges that will push us to new horizons. Well, I did, and I am glad I studied law because it still applies in agriculture. I would otherwise still be practicing main stream law.
Her position at the company and career within the agricultural sector has been a successful one without any significant gender-based obstacles. “To be sincere, I am lucky because I have been in the agricultural sector for a long time, so I have had a progressive growth.”
The biggest challenges, says Betty, are industry related. “Not being able to convince policy makers that the policy(ies) they make have an impact on people’s livelihoods. Not being able to bring advanced technologies to the farmers because of restrictive policies,” are the biggest issues she has to deal with as part of her job.
There is of course also the upside to fighting the good fight and the satisfaction that you play a part in feeding the world, says Betty. “Knowing that what we do has an impact not only on the livelihoods of the farmers but also on the livelihoods of their families. Knowing that a farmer was able to 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 Betty.
“I work closely with the business to understand the goals they have set. This enables me to develop goals that will help the business achieve its objective. For me, this will include 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 am not a scientist, but I encourage young girls to look at agriculture with a different mindset. There are many ways they can contribute to this sector as a lawyer, financial expert, human resources, IT specialist etc. The list is endless and unless they know of the possibilities that exist in the sector they will tend to shy away.”
Corteva Agriscience’s™ Stewardship Lead for Africa Middle East is Dr. Nolwazi Mkize. This formidable woman is based in Pretoria, South Africa, but serves throughout the AME region.
Nolwazi clearly loves the work she does and eagerly tells about her journey before ending up at 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 a PhD in Entomology (on olive pests) at Rhodes University.
“I then worked as a researcher at the ARC-VOPI where I further extended my knowledge about 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 have joined a Stewardship Leadership group within Corteva AgriScience™.”
How does a company like 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 am from Mdatsane, Eastern Cape, which is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. I consider myself a testimony that your background alone does not determine your future. Most importantly I owe it to my late mother and grandmother and God. Their hard work to raise me did not go in vain.”
If you ask Nolwazi about obstacles, she 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 agricultural sector, I had to work harder than my peers to find my place, but that was not a big problem as it is 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 is 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 e-mail from an exporter/grower/farmer or colleague and I am 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 to understand the agricultural practise on those farms. As they are constantly changing and communicate them internally, this does come with its own challenges, but it is part of the job to figure this out.”
Choosing a career in agriculture is something she would encourage young people to consider.
“Poverty is real and if we want to fight it, agriculture is more effective than other sectors,” is her opinion. “Agriculture in the developing world has become a vibrant field with effective innovations. Not forgetting that such a career comes with a lot of hard work and attention to detail, so it needs someone who has a positive attitude, passionate and willing to be in the field and learn.”
LEADING THE MARKETING PACK
Being comfortable talking in front of crowds means that Linda van der Merwe is often the programme director at corporate events. Her knowledge of the industry, products and sharp wit help her to bring the message across with a fine balance between substance and entertainment.
When you meet Linda van der Merwe, Corteva Agriscience’s™ Marketing Lead for Africa and the Middle East, you know that things will happen with speed and professionalism.
Linda joined Corteva Agriscience™, the new Agriculture Division of DowDuPont™ in 2018 and she oversees marketing activities for seed, crop protection, seed applied technologies and digital.
Her experience of 18 years in various corporate marketing and communications positions, of which 16 years was at agricultural companies, gives her an edge when it comes to understanding the industry and connecting with farmers and big corporate clients alike.
“I have a post-graduate degree in marketing and my work experience the past 18 years includes corporate and product strategic management, ranging from marketing strategies and execution (above and below the line advertising campaigns) as well as customer engagement, CRM, communication and events.”
Linda is currently based at Corteva’s Africa Middle East Head Office based in Centurion, Gauteng. Her work does require quite a bit of travel to meet with her 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 America as well as Europe.”
On the issue of opportunities at Corteva, Linda is pleased that merit and hard work is recognised and continuous development encouraged.
“Corteva embraces diversity at all levels and it’s evident in the organisation across different business functions and starts from the interviewing process. Learning and development is part of the strategic agenda and focussed training is also offered to employees.
She dedicates her main driving force and inspiration to succeed in her job to farmers. “Farmers in Africa face great challenges which 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.”
CHALLENGES AND MOTIVATION
Overcoming gender-based obstacles were part of Linda’s early career.
“When I started out the industry it was the challenge of being taken seriously as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated environment. It’s such a cliché but it’s true!”
Having children is one of her great joys in life, but being a working mom has its challenges. “I am extremely grateful for a solid support system at home.”
She says the most satisfying part of her daily task is when she engages with Corteva’ s customers and learn about their own challenges and successes. “To really know and understand what they are going through every day and looking for opportunities where we can support or make a change, makes it all worth it.
“By ensuring that we are in touch with farmers and grower organisations, to understand their challenges, developing the right product for a specific need or challenge on the farm and being up to date on what is happening in the market place is important.”
Why would Linda encourage young girls to consider a career in science or agriculture?
“It is important to play a role in securing the current and next generation’s future. The agricultural industry offers the world of different career options: Research, finance, breeding, human resources, sales, supply chain, business development, marketing, digital development and so much more!”
PASSION AND DEDICATION WILL GET YOU THERE
From her office based in Cairo, Egypt, Suzan Antonio Aziz fills the position as country regulatory manager for North East Africa and the Middle East.
Suzan has been working in the regulatory field since 2008 (joined Dow in 2015). Her work at Corteva Agriscience™, the new Agriculture Division of DowDuPont™ revolves around preparing and delivering the right data packages according to the country’s requirements.
“I also work with several teams to complete tasks related to finance, marketing, biology, legal matters and such.”
Corteva’s equal opportunity workplace allows women, like men, to grow and develop in a supportive environment
“At Corteva women have equal job opportunities, benefits and opportunity to grow. Here we respect working hours but also maternity leave and time off for breast feeding babies. We have very supportive leaders and Corteva appreciates if you’re going the extra mile.”
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,” says Suzan.
Challenges include scheduling different tasks to achieve the maximum output every day and to set time aside for learning and developing.
The most challenging aspects of her job is about balancing time. Suzan explains: “You have to achieve customer satisfaction in a timely manner. But you also must do this without having to work over time or on weekends. I also have to cope with the different cultures in my region. Through all of this one should never lose your passion, even in the most difficult times.”
The most satisfying part of Suzan’s daily tasks, include the fulfilment of customers’ needs, to support requests, achieve planned goals and to share solutions and her expertise with her teams.
Suzan encourages girls to roll up their sleeves and consider a career in the agricultural sector.
“If a girl has passion, nothing should stop her. It will require a lot of work and effort, and it may take time but be sure that with passion and dedication you will get the right chance in the right time. My advice to you not to listen to negative messages focus on your passion.”
Please call 012 683 5700 for more information.