Pioneering nut farmer is breaking barriers for women

Busisiwe Molefe runs BBS Farm in partnership with Bongi Lushaba and Slindile Zandi in Port Shepstone, KZN.

When Busisiwe Molefe started farming macadamia nuts, she frequently felt scrutinised and even mocked as a black, female farmer who was new to the sector. She silenced the critics, however, when she reached international markets in under six years.

With export markets now open to her produce, Molefe (49) and her two (female) partners still made a point of supporting those around her, including her 27 permanent and ten seasonal workers, mainly women and youth.

She was young when she first harboured thoughts of being a farmer. After matriculating from Bhekameva High School in Highflats, KwaZulu-Natal, Busisiwe joined the Advancement Community Development Corporation, who selected her to represent South Africa in Sweden through an exchange program.

Busisiwe Molefe

While in Sweden, Busisiwe stayed with a Swedish family who grew extremely fond of her. “The family adored me so much that they offered to pay for my studies when I return to South Africa. I initially thought that they were joking but I was thankful for the opportunity.”

After completing her degree in agricultural extension and rural resources management at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Molefe was ready to use her newfound skill in her community. “I partnered with Bongi Lushaba and Slindile Zondi, who both have agricultural backgrounds, and together we obtained land from the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development in 2009 with the hopes of successfully farming macadamia nuts,” she says.

Their partnership proved to be lucrative and resulted in the birth of BBS Farm, located in Port Shepstone, KZN. BBS farms an array of produce like spinach, cabbage, beetroot, brinjals, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce seedlings as well as cooking herbs. But it is their farming of macadamia nuts that has made Molefe and her team pioneers in the sector. Together they have collected many awards.

“I would like to see more women breaking into male-dominated industries,” she says.

One of Molefe’s proudest moments in the industry was when she placed third in the Ithala’s Imbokodo Iyazenzela – Women in Business Awards. Ithala’s Imbokodo Iyazenzela – Women Doing It For Themselves is a province-wide development programme for Women in small and medium enterprises. It focusses mainly on the townships and rural areas of KZN. It offers inspirational talks, advice, direction and opportunities for women in business or who want to get into business.

The award came at a great time, because with her winnings she could expand her farming projects. “I’m proud that BBS farm has boosted South Africa’s produce exports. When we started farming, I was recognised as the first black farmer to farm macadamia nuts, but my journey hasn’t been all that easy,” she says.

It took Molefe six years to meet the requirements of exporting and says the agriculture community and business world wasn’t always friendly towards her. “But when we finally got the go-ahead from the department, my team and I were ecstatic to learn that we could now export macadamia nuts to Asia, China, Europe and the United States of America.” She says fighting through red tape has been her biggest challenge. Thankfully that is now a thing of the past.

In 2016 BBS farm produced 10 tons of macadamia nuts and in 2017 they produced an even bigger yield of 13.5 tons.

She explains that 2018 was also a great year for them, and they are expecting an even bigger yield this year. Throughout her journey of establishing herself, Molefe has always echoed the importance of supporting those around her. BBS farm currently employs 27 permanent and ten seasonal workers, mainly women and youth.

“I would like to see more women breaking into male-dominated industries,” she says.

Molefe has achieved amazing results in the farming community and she is a force to be reckoned with. She’s the first one to admit that South Africa has made great progress in making the industry more accessible to young, black and female farmers, but warns that much more work is needed.

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