Next up on Food For Mzansi’s #SoilSistas campaign we meet Metsana Kojane, founder of Eden Roots. Powered by Corteva Agriscience, we’re highlighting some of the extraordinary female farmers participating in Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
To start producing food, all you need is seed, water and soil, even if it is just enough to fill up a pot, says Metsana Kojane, founder of Eden Roots, a North West impact-driven, eco-friendly agribusiness born in 2015.
While she focuses on horticulture, beekeeping and agro-processing, there is much more to both her and her agribusiness.
“I am a mother, community leader, environmental activist and role model to many young women and girls in my village,” says Kojane.
Eden Roots is not just in the business of selling bee products, they also economically empower groups of women and girls with beekeeping skills.
Despite her success and her current passion for all things bee related, Kojane didn’t initially set out on this path.
“I started off farming indigenous plants and herbs,” she says. “My interest was particularly in those used for healing by our foremothers.”
One day she discovered some bees in an old borehole while busy with her herbs and was intrigued enough to learn more about them.
She set off to do some research on bees and quickly found out how vital they are to our ecosystems.
“I realised that bees facilitate an integral part of all agricultural systems, even though their importance is hardly ever acknowledged,” she says. “When most people think of bees they only think about their painful stings!”
“At the heart of Eden Roots is biodiversity. All life on earth depends on it, and we love bees because they make all life possible.”
Entrepreneur with a cause
An entrepreneur at heart, Kojane knew she would have to make a business out of this new-found passion and love of bees and pollination services. She also had many other issues that she wanted to tackle. She says she knew that this could be the start of a big project that could have a major positive impact on her community.
Many entrepreneurs are driven by a passion to solve problems or address key societal issues. For Kojane, there are multiple complex issues that she sees around her.
“Entrepreneurship for me is secondary,” says Kojane.
“My primary force is passion for what I do.”
Her work is about results, not just in terms of profit, but seeing an improvement in another woman’s life, and seeing flowers and many bees busy doing what they do best.
“Each time I hear the buzzing sound of bees, I smile knowing that they are working hard towards our much-needed biodiversity.”
By putting bees at the heart of her business, Kojane produces natural honey that has not only created local agri-processing jobs for women in her community, but also a natural skincare brand using the wax, propolis and royal jelly from her raw honey hives.
“I love and enjoy my work so much that I could work around the clock without even realising it,” says Kojane. “I tried a few business ideas previously but this one is more than just a business. It is my calling!”
Eden Roots is also in the business of selling and promoting honey that is raw and ethical. This is made possible by practicing natural and organic beekeeping practices.
“Our business is special because it embraces our cultural heritage passed on to us by our foremothers,” Kojane explains.
“They had unique ways of keeping bees and they used indigenous herbs for healing and staying healthy.”
Empowering rural communities and women
Kojane has an infectious passion for empowering women and for improving the livelihoods of rural communities.
“One of our main objectives is to see sustainable economic growth in rural communities,” says Kojane.
“It breaks my heart to see the effect of urbanisation on rural communities. Parents go to cities to look for employment, they don’t make much and their earnings are not sustainable or enough to send money home to feed the grandparents and kids, or for themselves.”
Kojane says that these are the many small things that add up and end up giving birth to other problems with health, violence and poverty.
“If rural areas prosper, urban areas prosper as well,” says Kojane. “The formula does not work vice versa, though. When urban areas prosper it kills the rural communities.
“When rural areas are sustained then the people will stay in their communities, with higher quality of life and healthier families.”
Kojane also deliberately empowers women and girls through Eden Roots.
“We choose to work with them for obvious reasons,” she says.
“One, women have been disadvantaged for a long time. A lot of priority and preference have been given to men, as opposed to women. Yet women are the ones who take on more responsibility, they have a lot more burdens placed on them.
“Two, women have a lot of potential. They have all the traits to prosper and grow the economy. They are responsible, creative, can multitask. We’ve got it all.”
Citing the fact that there is more women than men in the world, Kojane says we should be pushing to see more women in positions of power, and more women participating in economic growth.
Eden Roots is a business that strives to empower other woman-owned businesses when they outsource professional services. They also work with groups of women from disadvantaged rural communities and equip them with beekeeping skills to start their own beekeeping businesses.
“Our bees have enabled us to employ many women and girls, and teach them beekeeping skills,” says Kojane. “By giving them work and skills, we empower them to be financially stable so that they cannot be prone to gender-based violence. This also helps to improve the economy of rural villages where our apiaries are located.”
Food security and pollination
“We cannot begin a dialogue on food security without talking about bees and pollination,” Kojane insists.
Kojane finds it astounding that South Africa does not have beekeeping or pollination strategies.
“Our country is not focusing on sustainable solutions towards food security,” she says. “You cannot resolve hunger and poverty by giving people food. You have to deal with it at a fundamental level.
“We have been dethroned from our status as the food basket of Africa,” Kojane says sadly. “So, there is a whole lot of work to be done. I feel the bees can make a big difference.”
(If this is news to you, read our article Mzansi dethroned as most food-secure country in Africa.)
According to Kojane our government should have devised pollination strategies a long time ago. And while we cannot do anything about the past, we can make better policy decisions moving forward. Kojane recommends implementing pollination and beekeeping strategies at a national level that must also filter down to provincial strategies and to local municipalities.
“At Eden Roots we believe there is room for more jobs to be created through beekeeping in rural communities by women and for women,” says Kojane.
“We would like to see a revival in our biodiversity and South Africa’s rural economy through beekeeping so that we can alleviate poverty, hunger and complex problems caused by urbanisation.”
Here’s some advice for aspiring agripreneurs
Kojane’s advice to other agripreneurs is to “take the Nike approach and ‘just do it’”.
“All you need is seed, water and land. It does not matter how small it is, even if it is just a pot, you just start with what you have.
“Women in particular must just get out there. We must not hide ourselves in the corners, we must just get out there. We have it within us. We are born nurturers, we are born carers. These plants are life, who says a woman cannot take care of life?”