Dipitseng is building on the farming legacy of her father

An environmental scientist by trade, Manamela now farms with cattle and vegetables on the communal lands she grew up on. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi.

An environmental scientist by trade, Dipitseng Manamela now farms with cattle and vegetables on the communal land on which she grew up. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

For Dipitseng Manamela, the Covid-19 lockdown and the passing of her father were the interplaying triggers she needed to move into agriculture. Manamela is one of the extraordinary female farmers participating in the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).

Dipitseng Manamela grew up farming. As a young child in Limpopo, she would help her father on his subsistence farm, planting vegetables and other crops every season. “When he passed on last year in June, I thought to myself, ‘Are we letting this go or is there something we can do?’ And that’s how I started.” 

Manamela started AgriHlash, a mixed farming operation she runs with her sister, Mogadi. And while AgriHlash is still very small-scale, the siblings are looking for opportunities to grow.  

“When we opened [AgriHlash] to do farming, [we did it] with the intention of purchasing a farm. We did purchase one, but later discovered that it was part of the land reclaiming process, so we cancelled the deal. For now, we [continue] farming in the village we come from.” 

With both an undergraduate and honours degree in microbiology, as well as a master’s degree in environmental science, Manamela’s main business is environmental management. She started her career as a scientist in 2008 at the department of water affairs and worked for close to a decade in both the public and corporate sectors. In 2016, four years before she started the farming business, she put together her own consultation company called Dihlashana Consulting Corporation.

Cabbages are some of the primary crops farmed at AgriHlash. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“At this moment, I can say the [environmental] business is bringing in a lot of income, which can help me invest in and grow the [agricultural] one.” 

Even though the agricultural business is fairly new, Manamela does not see it as a side hustle. “[Mogadi and I] share the duties. It’s not something we can say we do in our spare time, honestly, because we’ve got two employees. There is no time when there is nothing [to do] at all.” 

The challenge of farming 

For Manamela, her father’s death was not the only motivator for her to journey back into farming. The Covid-19 lockdowns changed her perspective on the work she was doing as an environmental consultant.  

“When you are locked down, you start to ask questions. ‘Am I in the right business if I am unable to operate?’ And for us, it was [that] the business was delayed. We started working at level three, but the question was, should something like this happen again, are we going to find ourselves crying the same tears? What else can one do? And, added to that, my father also passed away. And I was like ‘agriculture is the answer’.” 

Dipitseng Manamela says that cotton is the latest crop with which they are farming at AgriHlash. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Still, subsistence farming is somewhat different to farming commercially. Manamela, who is farming on communal land, cites access to land as one of the biggest challenges; a challenge exacerbated by gender politics.  

“Very recently, I was asked for my divorce certificate because people were challenging my reasons for using that farm. I just left abruptly, and I didn’t respond. But I found it to be a barrier. I don’t understand why I should be struggling to get land in the community that I grew up in.” 

She says that her great-grandfather contributed to the purchase of the communal land in the region, and she does not see why she should continue to struggle.  

“It is because I am a woman. My brother is not struggling. So, by them asking for the divorce certificate, they are challenging [my right to farm here]. I cannot use the land when I am married, and I find it to be very unfair.” 

Advice for other women 

Manamela sees piggery and poultry in the near future of her farming operation. She says that while they have farmed with chickens before, it was not something which they have the capacity to do full-time yet.  

“It’s something I do in December [when] the demand is high. I always plan for eight weeks and I start on 5 December. I purchase the chicks prior to that to make sure that they are ready for the market in December. But the vegetables are continuous. That is full-time.” 

While she would like to access a bigger market, Manamela is very practical when it comes to what her business can offer. This is something she says other women farmers need to think about as well. “If I have 2 000 chickens and I say to Pick n Pay, ‘I want to supply you,’ they won’t take me seriously. I need to be honest with myself.” 

Her advice is simple. “Acknowledge the size of your organisation. [Many] women want to do business with big corporates without understanding the quantities big corporates require. So, either collaborate with other women or look for a different market. Of course, all of us, we want to grow. We want to attract big corporates, but let’s be fair to ourselves and to the corporates. [We should also] collaborate as women, so we can attract a bigger market.”

ALSO READ: Former banker bitten by the farming bug

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