For poultry farmer Motlatsi Tolo, inspiration lies in constantly staying hopeful and resolving problems. She is one 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), powered by Corteva Agriscience.
“Before you are a mother, a father, a doctor, a policeman – before any title out there – you need to eat.” So says Motlatsi Tolo (30), environmental scientist, poultry farmer and managing director of Raseto Agricultural Enterprise.
Born in Zambia, the poultry farmer spent most of her life in South Africa and joined her family’s business in 2016, after graduating from Midwestern State University in the United States.
Her decision to join the family business was motivated by a sense of duty, to both her family and to society. “I had a bit of a spiritual journey in varsity. I was trying to get a bit more direction as to what my purpose or calling is,” she recalls.
“In the poultry industry, seeing as how we assist with job creation, upskilling people as well as alleviating poverty, it seems to fit what I was seeking best. So, that’s how I jumped into the family business.”
‘Agriculture is a science’
Tolo draws her inspiration from the broiler production process. She says, while each cycle has repetitive elements, it is never exactly the same.
“We have a certain amount of days growing the chickens and then obviously they leave. But what’s exciting is knowing that agriculture is a science. It is always trial and error, and we keep a lot of data so it is interesting to see how seasonal changes can actually affect your production.”
Broiler farming, like most agricultural ventures, comes with a high risk factor. For Tolo, going to work every day and trying to figure out solutions for the problems that crop up is part of the excitement of the job.
“[Farming] is constant development. But it’s is just about keeping one’s tenacity and constantly staying hopeful.”
Farming as a woman
Tolo finds the day-to-day of her work challenging and stimulating. “If I am a day behind, or if I have not picked up on a problem, I implement a solution immediately and I may feel the effects over time or at the end of the cycle. For example, if it’s a very cold season, am I making sure that my heating system is up to standard? That the chicks get enough heat but also not boil them up?”
While she acknowledges that the farming in South Africa is a male-dominated sector, other people’s biases are not her concern.
“I’m quite optimistic and I feel like there will always be challenges faced. Whether it’s racial, whether it’s being a woman in agriculture.”
“But, I take it head-on as a challenge that one as an individual needs to go past, regardless of what the next person’s opinion is. My main focus is to ensure that the company is operational to its fullest capacity.”
Food security is a major theme in agriculture this year, and it is something that Tolo has thought about as well. In the agricultural future she would like to see, black and disadvantaged agribusinesses thrive to where they are able to list on the stock exchange.
“I’d also like to see [disadvantaged agricultural entities] becoming driving forces, and a lot of women as well, taking the lead and being proud of assisting a basic need, which is agriculture,” says the poultry farmer.
“Remember, with agriculture you also get medication, etc. There are so many [industries] within the agricultural sector. It’s really vast and interesting, so I really look forward to the future…”
Motlatsi Tolo’s tips for women farmers:
“Keep your faith”: Farming is an industry that takes a lot of time and patience. It is not something you can do if you want immediate returns.
“Take the time to understand your market”: The best thing to do for yourself and your business is to do your research, so you can make educated decisions.
“Put on your business cap and understand how your financials work”: Farming is a business. You need to know more than just the production part of your operation.
“Be confidently bullish about what it is you want”: Do not trample over people, but be assertive and confident in your decisions. Make sure to be open to advice, and walk with other people, particularly other women, who also face the same challenges.
“Be patient with yourself”: Farming is an industry that requires plenty of patience. Do not rush yourself.