This week’s #Soilsista, powered by Corteva Agriscience, speaks candidly about the sexism she experienced from many men in the agricultural sector. Today, livestock farmer, Boitumelo Modisane is on her way to the top. She’s one of the farmers currently participating in Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Come hell or high water, Boitumelo Modisane was determined to become a livestock farmer. Growing up on a farm near Rustenburg in North West, she made some U-turns in fashion in marketing, but in the end she could no longer ignore the cattle’s call.
Looking back, she remembers the Modisane family as very traditional. She was always aware of her expected gender role. “But growing up, seeing my dad doing what he does best as an entrepreneur and a professional, I was always so inquisitive in this boys’ area of farming, wanting to drive a tractor, being hands on.”
Despite this, Modisane (now 40), ended up studying both fashion and marketing. The birth of her first child, however, brought some perspective.
It was in 2005 that she gave birth to her son, spending her maternity leave at her parents’ home. Around the same time, her parents went on holiday, leaving her to run their agricultural enterprise.
“So in the mornings, I would leave my newborn baby with the helper and go and open up for the livestock.
“I would go and make sure that I drop water and feed for them. I was back in this farming world and by 2008 I had already made my decision that, whether I liked it or not, [farming] is something I would not run away from.”
Modisane says at the time her father, Tim Modisane, was hesitant about her choosing agriculture. As a traditionalist, he feared for her future marriage prospects should she venture into farming. “This was in 2008. I then went back to corporate.”
Taking charge of her dream
It took another seven years of corporate life before she heeded the call to farm.
“I always knew that I would fall back into this [livestock farming]. Sometime after I got married, I said to my husband, ‘You know what? It’s time for us to buy livestock.’”
Modisane’s husband did not understand her desire, but her passion soon won him over. She did not want to live with any regrets, and used all available cash to spend at livestock auctions with her father.
“That’s the day that made me who I am today. I remember sitting with my dad on the auction grand stands. He said, ‘Are you not buying too much? You need to call your husband.’ I said to him, ‘No. It doesn’t matter.’ I did not feel wrong about my actions. I felt like this is what I always needed to do.”
After she bought her herd at one of the auctions, Modisane found that 11 of the heifers were pregnant. “Seven months later, those 11 [cows] gave us 12 [calves]. That is when I started to understand that this is a ministry. It’s something that is connected to you in spirit. Ever since that day, my herd continued growing.”
“I was motivated by the rejection; by the fact that our society does not believe that women can do this.”
Starting a company
As her herd grew, Modisane knew she wanted to go into meat processing. She told her dad about her new goal, but he was sceptical.
“He said, ‘It’s just too much work for a girl.’ I love those challenges, because we are raised to understand that we are only limited to [certain things]. For me, everything came with no limits.”
Modisane wanted to share her passion for livestock farming with other people. She started a company.
“Green Pastures Legacy started as a crowd-farming platform. I learnt, though, that as much as the vision is yours and the objective is yours, not everyone shares the same values. That’s why in 2019, I decided that the crowd-farming model no longer works. Green Pastures Legacy is now just a commercial farming business.”
Breaking down barriers
Of course, no farming operation is without challenges.
Modisane was just happy that she started her operation before the Covid-19 pandemic started. “Had it came at a point where I was still procrastinating, it would have been a very bad season. But it came at a point where I already started the business. So I had financial peace of mind.”
When she first entered the livestock farming sector, she found that she often experienced rejection just because she is a woman. She was not deterred, however, and instead used the sexism she experienced to motivate herself even more.
“I was motivated by the rejection; by the fact that our society does not believe that women can do this. I was motivated by rejection from my fellow brothers.
“When you are a girl child, you are always shut away. When you are a girl child asking questions [about farming], there is red tape, marking this as a man’s territory. That is what drove me. Every negative opinion made me wonder. It made me ask, ‘Why am I not allowed?.’”
Now, as an established farmer, she is no longer experiencing that type of rejection.
“The challenges now are a lack of rain, droughts, and livestock illnesses. In winter, theft is also a challenge. And, what Covid has brought, is poverty and desperation, so people are trying to take our stock. We have had to tag our stock and increase our security.”
Boitumelo Modisane’s hard-won advice
Modisane has plenty of advice for women going into the livestock farming industry, including the following:
Know your market and know the kind of breed you are keeping: Understanding the value of your breed and the market you are selling to, is vital to the success of your business.
Understand your climactic conditions: Ask yourself questions about where you are based, questions like, “Is there enough rain? What is the drought capacity of this land? And what kind of grass would you plant in your arable land?”
What kind of diseases could your cattle get? Livestock farmers need to know when to dip their animals, how to treat them or get help when they are ailing, etc.
Patience pays: There is money in this business, but do not rush the money. You need to be patient. Do not look at the money pot. If you do, you are going to feel like you aren’t doing enough.