Determined to leave a legacy of generational wealth, Free State farmer Disebo Makatsa is expanding her business, for herself and for her children. She is paying forward the lessons that she learned from her own mother. 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).
When Disebo Makatsa (55) went to study at what is now Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, she did not expect to end up in agriculture. The mother of three obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology, business management and African languages, and went on to lecture at the university for another two years.
Her journey into farming started around the year 2000, when she worked a small plot on a commonage in her community in Welkom, also in the Free State. She grew vegetables and fruit and considered starting a piggery. Those plans were cut short, however, when the local municipality decided to turn the commonage into a housing development.
Makatsa continued with her farming ambitions and applied to lease state-owned land through the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development. “I applied for a farm in 2004 and got the farm in 2009, but the farm did not have water at all. The underground water on the farm was contaminated due to the mines,” she recalls.
Instead of giving up, she submitted another application for a different farm. Her second application, approved in 2014, took an additional five years to be approved. Thus Dee-Y Trading, a dairy business that supplies at least one major retailer, was born.
Inspired throughout her life
Makatsa cites her mother as her farming inspiration. Her mother worked at OK stores during the day but was also an informal trader on the side.
“Growing up, my mother was a very business minded person. She used to buy things like fruit and vegetables, and then we would go and sell at the bus stops.”
“Back then, we used to have buses taking people from the townships to town, so we used to sell those things. We also used to go to the farm to buy maize, which we would cook at our house then go and sell at the bus stop. I think my interest in business came from there.”
Makatsa has always liked doing physical work. “I like working with my hands, and I like being in nature. I like working outside, I love animals, and I really like cattle.”
In 2000, when Makatsa started her journey, farming looked very different. “Back then, we used to be very few women farmers. We were not really recognised. I remember when people were getting [funding], they would only consider the men. But I really just kept on keeping on.”
As a dairy farmer, the issue of cattle theft is something that is foremost on Makatsa’s mind. She says she has experienced cattle theft numerous times. “I had a lot of people come in and steal the cattle. I think security is one of the major, major problems. Government can assist farmers, but also farmers themselves must do their part. But it is something that can be resolved if Government gave it attention.”
Building a legacy
At the moment, Dee-Y Trading is supplying milk to dairy processing giant Clover for the Woolworths dairy brand. Makatsa’s dairy operation is made up of 66 Ayrshire cows, with nine employees. She plans on expanding her business and hopes to move from being a milk supplier to a processor.
“We want to add more cattle to increase our volume, and then to venture into agro-processing, where we will be doing pasteurised milk, fresh milk, yoghurt and other dairy products like butter.”
She says that, while she is working to improve her business, her age might prevent her from fully realising her goals. “My plan is to grow the business, but I have told you my age. Time might beat me. So, I’ve encouraged my children to come on board, for them to learn what I have started and to help grow the business, so that the business can be a generational kind of a business.”
All three of Makatsa’s children have obtained business-related qualifications, with one of her sons having a bachelor of technology in agriculture, the other a marketing qualification, and her daughter a Master’s in business administration.
More women needed in farming
Makatsa urges women who are interested in farming to get the relevant qualifications. “We need more women to come on board and participate in the farming fraternity. And they should also consider doing it from a school level. Maybe if I would have studied what I was venturing into, it wouldn’t have taken me long to get things together.”
She says that more women are needed in the agricultural sector, at all levels.
“Farming is the way to go. It is the heartbeat of every country. Through it, people can eat and it is a mass creator of jobs. It is therefore vital that women participate in this sector. Together as women we can do wonders.”