Agriculture has traditionally been regarded as a male profession, but women are playing a vital role in developing the growth of the sector. Maria Swele, a 38-year-old Limpopo-based cotton farmer, has proven herself well worthy of the title “farmer”.
Swele grew up in the Matlerekeng Village in Mpumalanga. Her father passed away when she was just three years old and she was raised by her mother, a domestic worker, who worked hard to provide her children with the opportunity of education.
In 2002 Swele completed her matric and then completed a computer course at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 2003, she finished a short course in financial management in Dennilton in Limpopo.
With her financial skills in hand, Swele approached Frans Mallela, a large-scale farmer in Limpopo and started working on his farm as a financial administrator. She didn’t waste any time getting her hands dirty and before she knew it she was ploughing maize and sunflowers on a four-hectare leased farm in 2004.
In 2008, after being encouraged by Mallela, Swele attended a cotton farming training course conducted by Cotton South Africa at Tompi Seleka, an agricultural college in Limpopo, and decided to switch her focus to cotton farming.
Swele sells her cotton to Loskop Cotton, and through hard work she managed to buy her own farming implements, build her own house and buy a car. She not only manages to pay for her four children’s education, but also for the education of her younger sister.
However, this is not where Swele’s generosity ends. She is also actively involved in the social welfare of the residents in the Matlerekeng village.
Swele assists with the feeding schemes and provides scholars with an opportunity to learn more about the day-to-day activities of being a farmer.
“With the little that I make, I’ve helped some upcoming female farmers financially and they have managed to plant four hectares of cotton. Venturing into the cotton enterprise has made a huge difference in my life. This has been a rewarding journey as it provided me with the opportunity to make a difference in my community,” Swele says.
Swele is a role model, not only in her community, but for all women. Her passion, pride and commitment in her work has won her numerous awards over the past few years. In 2013, she was awarded the Aspirant Young Farmer of the Year Award by the Department of Agriculture in Limpopo.
In 2014, she was the runner-up for the same award and in 2015, she achieved second place in the Female Entrepreneur Awards. In 2016, she came second in the national competition and also received the MEC’s Special Award for Youth Project from the Limpopo Acting MEC of Agriculture, Mr. Seaparo Sekwati.
Today Swele is a successful farmer who owns a 40-hectare farm in Matlerekeng, close to Marble Hall. She employs 76 people, comprising of 70 women and 6 men. Though she is running her business successfully, Swele said it has not been an easy road and it took hard work and sweat to get where she is today.
“Many people warned me against becoming a farmer, but I proved them wrong” she adds.
Swele also visited China for a three-month training course in 2017, where she received advanced training to enhance her skills as a farmer. “This was very valuable training and I am grateful to the Department of Agriculture for this opportunity. I can’t wait to plough my knowledge back by teaching the other farmers what I have learned in China,” she says.
Her advice to women is: “Nothing in life is too difficult to achieve. Women no longer belong at home, you need to Despite challenges and hardship, Maria Swele broke the mold to become an award-winning cotton farmer. Her advice to other women? “Stand on your own feet.” and do something for yourself. Don’t sit still and keep quiet when you face challenges, learn from others. You are strong, you are a woman!”