Whatever you wear, eat or use has agricultural roots, says 28-year-old award-winning farmer Thato Moagi, the Managing Director of Legae La Banareng Farms in Modimolle, Limpopo.
“We should be thinking of a farmer every time we eat a meal, have a drink or even just wear clothes. When we take a bath or read a book… It’s all about agriculture. (Many of us) have distanced ourselves from agriculture because we no longer plant our own food, and don’t see things grow.”
Moagi was born and raised in Johannesburg as the second eldest of five children. As far as she can remember, both her parents have always been self-employed. “My parents are entrepreneurs in their own right. My dad has been independent from a young age, and was doing business from when he was in primary school selling sweets at school. He put himself through university and now has an MBA and a company called CFSD, which has been in the transformation sector for the past 15 years.”
As for her mother, Moagi adds that she used to have her own hair salon, but is now part of the family’s farming business. “Growing up my mom had a beautiful hair salon in Bank City, Johannesburg. She later went into events management and now is the facilities manager at Legae La Banareng Farms.”
Moagi could never imagine working in agriculture, but acknowledges her parents’ influence, which helped her become such an influential farmer. “My love for nature was reinforced by my parents from a young age and they supplemented my interest in nature and science by exposing us to it. They took us to rural spaces. They got us to understand who we are and where we come from.”
She encourages parents to cultivate a love for agriculture within their children as they are the NATION’s future farmers.
“It is not easy to break into this sector, which why it isn’t attractive to young people, but I encourage parents and future parents to nurture the passion of young people towards nature. It is those (our future generations) who will carry the yoke to feed people.”
Being the first South African to receive the acclaimed Nuffield Agricultural Scholarship in 2017, Moagi regards farming as a divine practice: “You realize that farmers have a very strong spiritual connection with who they are, their God, their religion and the land. It’s a very intense process. It’s a very spiritual process when you go into farming.”
The role that farmers play are often undervalued and even taken for granted. In spite of this, Moagi says farmers as a collective continue to do what they love by going back to the land, offering up their time and working the soil.
“That’s an act of servitude. You don’t find greedy people who are farmers. Most people (farmers) are willing to take the risk. They plant even though they know that the conditions might not ideal. They still plant, because they have faith. I think we should appreciate food producers more because it’s very important for who we are.”
Her childhood dream was to become a veterinarian. However, after matriculating from the Assumption Convent School for Girls, Moagi enrolled for a BSc in Agricultural Science at Unisa. Later she also ventured into botany. “I have always had a passion for nature and I naturally gravitated towards agriculture. I had a dream of becoming a vet, but I ended up studying plant science at the University of Pretoria.”
Legae La Banareng Farms was established in 2014 and Moagi farms with her family. She is the majority shareholder with her father, Molebatsi, as her business partner.
“At Legae La Banareng Farms we breed cattle, sheep and goats. We also produce indigenous green leafy vegetables. Furthermore, we have experiential learning programmes for people who are passionate about agriculture, but do not have access to their own land.”
Due to the hot weather in Limpopo, Moagi says a typical day in her life starts by getting up very early and working till late in the afternoons. Throughout the day she focuses on priorities such as the admin work, the crops and the animals. “We try to do admin midday and hard work the other parts of the day. The animals go out in the morning to the pastures. We make sure we monitor water levels for plant production, maintain crops and harvest. We also have training sessions when we introduce a new crop or breeding technique. We open it up to students.”
As part of the active role that she plays on the farm, Moagi emphasized that getting dirty is inevitable. “Farming makes you realise that you always need to be prepared, so focus on having protective clothing from different elements. Long hair and nails no longer become a priority when you are busy trying to make targets. You have to be involved and get dirty or wet, or else you won’t have an idea of what the business is like and how to mitigate risks.”
The farm and the programmes on offer are centred towards building and educating future farmers with the necessary information and knowledge. Thus far they have hosted more than 100 future farmers who were interested in learning more about potato production and maize indigenous vegetable irrigation systems.
“The aim of the farm is to be a commercial operating entity that serves as a platform for students and farmers to learn scarce and critical skills that are needed in a value chain. This is important. Many producers are not exposed to skills that will enable them to improve their business technical and compliance skills.”
Besides the scholarship, Moagi was also named both Limpopo’s Young Farmer and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015.
Inspired by her parents
As a young farmer and entrepreneur, Moagi says it was her mother, Lerato, who taught her how to be independent and to also work for herself. Her father, Molebatsi, on the other hand, has inspired her by previously successfully managing his own business.
She attributes her agricultural success to both her parents. “They are the reason for my success as they support my decisions and are as passionate about the industry and the future of other young farmers as much as I am.”
When it comes to anything in relation to farming, Moagi makes sure that her voice is being heard. She serves a volunteer for the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa’s youth task force, led by Nono Sekhoto-Iga.
“This is to assist AFASA in developing as a youth-based organisation as well as to help design products that will help first generation farmers in terms of funding and support.”
She also serves on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s advisory panel on Land Reform, along with, amongst others, Free State farmer Nick Serfontein, agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo and the President of AgriSA, Dan Kriek. “I am assisting with national policy recommendations in terms of the social aspects of the land reform process and identifying models that will promote enabling infrastructure that will support reform policies.”
This noteworthy woman, with an interest in African fashion and designing her own clothes, motivates women who dream of working in agriculture like herself.
“If you’re passionate about something you should go and do it. Use your power as a woman to try and think of new creative ways to solve issues. I don’t think that we’re that disadvantaged in the agricultural industry. It’s just that we always have to come up with new ways of doing things.”