Mapaseka Dlamini knows that farming is no bed of roses. She’s learnt loads of tough lessons that could easily have broken her spirit. Yet, she reigned victorious. This week, she is crowned as Food For Mzansi and Corteva Agriscience’s #SoilSista. In a special series, we feature some of the extraordinary farmers currently participating in the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
From just watching a television programme to discovering destiny. This is the story of Gauteng producer Mapaseka Dlamini who, in September 2012, traded an accounting job for a life on the farm.
“I decided I no longer wanted a job in an office,” the 36-year-old says. She holds a post-graduate certificate in accounting, but knew instinctively that her future was intertwined with nature. “I knew someday I will own a farm…”
In the same week, after deciding to farm, Dlamini was watching the SABC2 show Living Land. It featured a number of award-winning women in agriculture, including Flora Mamotshitshiri.
Dlamini says, “I could see her passion, her resilience. I could see she’s got bigger dreams and a passion for growing her layer farm.”
This led to a great adventure in trying to get a hold of the very Mamotshitshiri. Eventually, after being sent back and forth, Dlamini contacted her via the Living Land team. Mamotshitshiri was pleased to hear from her, and they agreed to meet on her farm.
Where the farming journey began
Dlamini says this was the day her journey in farming officially started. Twice every month, on weekends, she would drive more than 100km to Mamotshitshiri’s farm. This is where she learnt the basics of chicken farming while benefiting from on-the-job mentorship.
She also found a second family and the 21ha farm became her school.
“In the morning, she [Mamotshitshiri] would show me around the farm. We’d do her daily routines of maintaining the farm, and it was all awesome. I would go there with my tekkies because I didn’t have boots at that time. They would be full of chicken poop.”
“My car would be smelling of chicken poop, but on Mondays I would be the happiest person at the office because I did something that I love.”
After a year, Dlamini felt like she was not growing and she sought two hectares of a different farm to start crop farming. “This is where I learnt there are tricks, challenges and mistakes in this agribusiness,” she says.
Dlamini and the farm owner went into a verbal agreement without signing a formal contract. “I knew that we had to sign a contract but I let my sight and guard down,” she explains. Soon, the risks became evident. “There was nothing binding us and if something would happen, like cows eating my crops, what would I do?”
In the process, Dlamini lost more than R100 000 and made no profit. Her major expenses were for irrigation, employing a worker, buying seedlings, and fuel to get to the farm. Eventually, the relationship turned sour and Dlamini decided to move on.
Tough lessons learnt
She spent the next six months looking for land and started planting flowers in a friend’s garden. During this time, she was still doing her day job and would come back late at night to take care of the flowers. Again, she learnt tough lessons. “Sometimes there would be too much heat or too much water, so some would die.”
In 2014, she eventually found a small piece of land in Centurion which she rented for R3 000 per month. Dlamini felt this might be a stepping stone into a bigger farm. “As long as they would come and assess our work, we’d stand a better chance of getting funding or a farm.”
She had two employees and started farming herbs. The land was a bit rocky and needed a tractor to refine the soil. No one could help, including government. The result was that she could not plough the land until the end of that year.
Things started to get better in 2015 when she was allocated a farming space in Diepsloot, Gauteng by the department of social development. Dlamini grabbed this opportunity with both hands and was able to implement the many lessons she learnt over the years.
Finally – the career she wanted
She also finally left her office job and embraced farming as her full-time career. This was the happiest time of her life because her dreams were shaping and, this time around, she was also harvesting the fruits of her labour in finances, growth and purpose.
Soon, when she needed more land, she started rooftop farming instead.
“In this agribusiness there are challenges and mistakes and people not being transparent, but we just always have to find a way to make it forward.”
She is currently one of the extraordinary farmers participating in the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
This programme has opened her mind, Dlamini says. “Now I want to go into the most expensive spice in the world, saffron” she giggles.
Top tips for farmers
Follow your passion: If farming is your passion, then go for it, but go for it with an open mind. “We always underrate the skill required to farm and manage an agribusiness,” says Dlamini. “The first thing we think of is funding. But I can give you a million rand and you can lose all of it in farming.”
Five factors for success: Know that there are five factors that will make any farming enterprise work: land, working capital, skills, soil knowledge and the market.
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