With a background in information technology (IT), Khuliso Madima is not your average farmer. She is one of the extraordinary women selected for Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Established in 2004, Rembander Agribusiness is a family-run operation based in Limpopo. While Madima’s father was setting up the farm, she was completing her IT qualification and starting work as a junior business analyst at the post office. Today she helps run their subtropical farm, where the family grows litchis and mangoes, and also does crop farming.
“I was in the corporate world from 2004. Then, in 2016, I started my own business. I worked with MTN’s corporate social responsibility department, setting up computer labs for learners with disabilities. I was running the project and reported to the programme manager at the company.”
Madima says the 2016 project was just a pilot, but it ended up being so successful that it was rolled out from Limpopo to the other provinces.
“It was exciting times for me until the Covid-19 pandemic halted the project. The project involved a lot of interpersonal contacts, which was no longer allowed. That’s when the project was stopped. And that’s why I started spending more time here at home.”
Madima’s mother, award-winning farmer Irene Livhuhani Madima, has been running the farm since 2013, after the passing of her father. With Madima spending so much time at the farm, her mother realised that she has the potential to help push the farm forward.
“She’s saying she is old now and she wants someone younger to take over. I’ve always done the business admin, but now I’m much more hands-on. I visit the farm more and try to get the business contracts. I’m also running the programmes that we have on the farm.”
Learning is key to success
For Madima, learning is a key aspect of her agricultural journey. This is why she enrolled in the Corteva Women Agripreneur programme.
“I [wanted] to improve my leadership, business, and entrepreneurial abilities, as well as to establish contacts with other women working in the agriculture sector. I also hope to get useful information from this course that will help me manage and operate my agricultural business more successfully.”
Madima is also enrolled at the University of Venda for her master’s degree in business information systems. Her research is related to smart farming, and how to integrate IT into agriculture.
“In 2020, I registered to do my honours. I finished the project for honours this year, then registered to do my masters.”
Since becoming more involved in the family business, her knowledge of farming has increased by leaps and bounds. The knowledge is often hard-won, through trial and error, but, she explains, the results keep her motivated.
“Every day I learn something new. I am wearing the cap of an HR manager, a financial manager, and a farm manager, so it’s been quite a challenge. We have to make decisions every day without fail. Sometimes the decisions we need to make are ones where we cannot afford to make mistakes. [Farming] keeps me on my toes. I’m always on my toes.”
“When my dad was still here, we grew avocados. He ran it so successfully that he was exporting to Spain and Germany. We stopped exporting by the time he passed on because we had to renew the export [licence]. Right now, I’m in the process of renewing the licence.”
Cash crops, says Madima, is how the family keeps their business sustainable when it is not the harvesting season for their main produce. They sell baby corn, baby marrows, green beans, and gem squash in bulk.
“We decided to only concentrate on baby corn and green beans because those are easy crops for our farm. It suits the soil that we have, and then we rotate between the two. Also, these crops pay very well and are also in demand when sold in bulk.”
Investing in the youth and the community
For Madima, investing in the community is a high priority. As someone with a background in IT, she of course gives back in the guise of technology.
“In this area, there is a chieftaincy. So, we normally approach the chieftaincy and ask for a list of those that did very well in matric. Depending on the kind of year we are having, we either give the matriculants laptops or tablets. So that when they go to tertiary level, they do have access to technology.”
Madima says the family does not just invest in the youth, but also provides incentives to their workers when they are having a good year.
“I find that most of the people that are working for us are breadwinners. When we do very well, they go home with their salaries as well as additional bonuses or incentives. It gives me joy to do that. I don’t know how to explain it, except that I feel like I am succeeding at something.”
There is still more Madima wants to do for her community, particularly for learners at the local schools. She says she wants to donate shoes for needy learners, as well as sanitary pads for schoolgirls.
Being able to make a difference, especially to the food security of the country, is one of Madima’s primary motivations. She says that being able to contribute to the country at such a fundamental level is astonishing.
“We are giving back to the community. We are giving back to South Africa. We are part of the people who are building and adding to the economy.”
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