Marginalised women face a variety of challenges, including a lack of information. Cleopatra Banda is setting out to change that in agriculture. Powered by Corteva Agriscience, we’re highlighting some of the extraordinary female farmers 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).
For Cleopatra Banda (26), empowering women is at the center of everything she does as an entrepreneur in the agriculture space.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Banda moved to South Africa in 2017. She pitched her idea to Orange Corners, an entrepreneurship support initiative of the Dutch government. When it was approved, she set out to expand her business idea with the support and guidance of this lean startup program.
Her business, called Dijo Seed Group, operates in Lydenburg in Mpumalanga. The company farms with seed potato and sweet potato vines, and also offers extension services and market linkages. “Our markets are in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and we are looking forward to opening a new market in Botswana. ”
Banda’s decision to go into farming came from her need to help women in the agricultural sector, especially marginalised smallholder farmers. “These women are unsung heroines who feed their families and take care of them through agriculture,” she says.
She finds that often what these women are missing is the knowledge they need to farm successfully, as well as the finance to grow their businesses. “The reason why these women are not successful in farming is because they do not have the right information and training, which is the gap my business came to close. They also do not have access to funding to produce on a bigger scale, [and need] help with [documentation] for banks and other commercial facilities who require formal documents.”
Farming is universally acknowledged as a sector that requires passion and commitment from those wanting to succeed in it. As an entrepreneur who chose farming as her field of business, Banda is no exception. “Farming is all around us. [From] the moment you wake up, the sheets you slept on, someone farmed that cotton. Agriculture is all around us. That’s what I love about it the most. It’s the drive of most African economies, providing livelihoods to many households.”
Farming as a woman entrepreneur
Farming is known to be a difficult industry to work in. For women, it can be especially hard. Banda says that in this day and age, women are still discriminated against in the agricultural sector. “I walk into a meeting and the room is full of men who are asking me who I came with. Because it’s so male-dominated, we haven’t yet reached a stage where women are taken seriously.”
She faces other challenges as well, like language barriers and a lack of knowledge amongst her clients. “[For example] doing business in Mozambique where the major language is Portuguese, this restricts the flow of business.”
Despite the challenges, Banda still manages to draw inspiration from the sector. She cites other women agripreneurs as her inspiration. “This was once an industry exclusive to men. The only serious women you would find were just smallholder farmers. Now, we are taking over!”
Cleopatra Banda’s advice for female agripreneurs
The challenges Banda faced became important business lessons for her. Among those lessons are the following:
Planning: “Business planning is important, and so is hiring the right people with the skills to cover the gaps,” she says. In Banda’s case, that gap was the language barrier for her market in Mozambique. This challenge showed her just how vital proper planning and market research is.
Stand fast against discrimination: “I have to stand tall for what I believe. I am a woman and I can be successful in agriculture,” she says. Despite the changing landscape of agriculture, the sector is still largely male-dominated. Women moving into the sector need to be even more determined to achieve their goals, due to the discrimination they may face.
Her final advice to female entrepreneurs? “Go for it now. Don’t doubt or second-guess yourself. Agriculture is the industry of the future and the future is now.”