For generations, black women in Mzansi have been rocks during times of adversity, often paving the way for others to follow in their footsteps. This is what inspired Grain SA junior agricultural economist Ikageng Maluleke to actively seek out her place in a predominantly male dominated industry.
The 30-year-old says growing up she never shied away from a challenge. Being the only girl with three brothers helped her realise that societal limitations on gender roles were all in the mind.
Born and bred in Hammanskraal, a township in Northern Gauteng, Maluleke says her passion for the agricultural industry was first cultivated as a scholar at the Good Shephard Model School in Toitskraal, a farming community near Marble Hall, Limpopo.
She says she was made aware of the true essence of the industry and its significance in rural communities through the teachings of a high school educator.
“I did [agriculture] as a subject and I had a very passionate teacher, Ms Pillay. She made me realize the impact that agriculture has on the livelihood of poor people, and so when I got to university it was just a question of where I fit in.”
The young economist has always been curious about how numbers intertwine with our everyday life, and more so how agricultural growth impacted the livelihoods of South Africans. “I had a very passionate maths teacher (Mr George). When he taught us how numbers could solve real life problems it got me intrigued,” says Maluleke.
‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.’
Combining the teachings of her educators, she decided to study agricultural economics at the University of Pretoria after matriculating in 2008. Her decision paid off and after completing her masters in agricultural economics in 2016, Maluleke secured employment as a junior agricultural economist with Grain SA – a farmer organization representing major grains in South Africa.
“As an agricultural economist, I specialise in understanding the economic activity within agricultural markets. They research statistics and data pertaining to the agricultural industry and project possible patterns and trends within the economy.
According to Maluleke, “there are various factors that influence the agricultural industry beyond the limitations of a farm gate.” She says by combining her love for numbers with her passion for agriculture she was able to realize that the sector is intricately connected to many other industries in the country, and that they operate within the economy of the country and the global economy.
Working in the male-dominated industry has had it its challenges. As a black woman, Maluleke says, she has had to push herself beyond limitations set by society. “It tends to be hard sometimes, as you have to work twice as hard to be noticed and recognised for the work you do,” she says.
But she continues to wear her passion like a cloak against adversity. “I have one motto in life: ‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.’”
Maluleke aspires to change the narrative of what and who a farmer is. She believes that the perception that farmers are white Afrikaans males is outdated. She advocates for the inclusion of black females in the industry.
“I strongly advocate for the youth to be more involved in agriculture and my dream is to see a food secure South Africa with a thriving rural economy in my lifetime,” she says. “If I can get the black youth to understand that they have a place in the agricultural sector, I would have played my part.”
Grain SA is a Food For Mzansi partner. Our work is supported by the contributions of our partners, who have no right of control over editorial content. Read more on our Partners page.