Tired of the corporate space, Maureen Pudikabekwa decided to go back to her farming roots. She joined her mother’s poultry business. 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).
As a child growing up in Verniet Moeglik in rural Limpopo, poultry farmer Maureen Pudikabekwa had no real ambitions to be a farmer. The eldest of three daughters, she grew up working the land with her grandmother.
Back then, her grandmother, Mmabagwe Rosina Machaba, was a crop farmer who specialised in growing various types of maize. The farming operation was 20km away from her childhood home, a distance Pudikabekwa would have to walk when helping with the farming.
“Farming was a way of generating money and to take care of the family. At that time, I was not that much into it because I felt forced to do it,” she recalls
Her indifference towards farming softened when she started understanding just how hard her grandmother was working. A single mother, her grandmother worked relentlessly in order to take care of her nine children. “My mother was three days old when my grandfather left, so [my grandmother] had to take care of all nine children on her own. She managed to do that through farming.”
After matriculating from Nkobo High School in the Mogalakwena Local District in Limpopo, Pudikabekwa went on to study industrial and organisational psychology at the University of Pretoria. She completed her studies in 1998, and started a career in corporate human resource management that spanned sixteen years.
By 2017, she had grown tired of working in corporate spaces. She moved back to her family’s home in Lephalale municipality and now works as the operations manager in the family farming business.
Moving into the family business
As poultry farmers, Pudikabekwa and her family operate under the name Ntwalebohade Trading Services. The business was started by her mother, who combined the names of her three daughters to come up with the business moniker.
A teacher by profession, Pudikabekwa’s mother, Sefularo Paulina Makgae, became a broiler farmer to supplement her income. “The local chief approached my mother and gave her five hectares of land. The chief said ‘I can see that you are an active woman. Just think of a business that can improve the life of the community.’ So my mother thought of poultry farming. She started with one chicken house. Today, she has about 14 houses. She employs five people permanently and I am one of them.”
Based in Mokuruanyane Village in Lephalale, Ntwalebohade Trading Services buys day-old chickens and grows them up to six weeks. “On a weekly basis, we put in about 2500 chicks. We then sell them to the community. We have a very good customer base around Lephalale.”
Being a woman in farming can be hard
As someone who inherited her farming knowledge from the women in her family, Pudikabekwa says that women farmers still experience discrimination in the farming industry. “It is difficult to secure funds from financial institutions just because I am a woman. They don’t trust that I will be able to run a farm. I don’t know if it is because they don’t believe that a woman can do the hard, manual work required on a farm.”
She has also found that securing markets is difficult because people do not take her seriously. “ I find that you are not given big contracts just because you are a woman. I have gone to big companies or canteens where I will say ‘I will be able to supply you with chickens’. They did not take me seriously. Just because I am a woman, they do not believe that I can pull it off.”
Inspired by farming
Pudikabekwa has not let these challenges stand in her way. For her, there is inspiration in every aspect of the farming journey, whether it is the daily operation of the poultry business, seeing the satisfaction of her customers, or simply the growth of the chickens.
“Seeing the growth and progress of the farm, knowing that you are an integral part of that growth, that’s inspiring. Also knowing that you have the potential to feed the nation at a larger scale, that is so satisfying. “
She also takes heart from making an impact on her community. “The fact that my decision to farm and the way I grow my products, has an impact on the daily lives of the community, that is very much inspiring and motivating.”
Maureen Pudikabekwa’s tips for women who want to get into farming
1. Do your research
“Conduct research regarding what you want to farm and put a plan in place as a guideline,” says Pudikabekwa. Like with any other business, starting a farming venture requires careful planning and attention to detail.
2. Do not be discouraged easily
Experiencing difficulties is inevitable, despite your planning, says Pudikabekwa. “You will experience some setbacks. That is part of business. You may lose lots of money but don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Just work hard.”
3. Start with what you have
“Don’t wait for anyone to give you money because that doesn’t really happen. Do not wait to have loads of funds, because you will never have enough funds to start. Just start with what you have,” advises Pudikabekwa.
4. Connect with other farmers
After you have decided where and with what you are going to farm, make sure that you have contacts. “Make sure that you create networks with other farmers, for help, for inspiration, for motivation, for information sharing, for knowledge.”
5. Keep yourself in the know
“Don’t ever stop learning about what you are farming or what you want to farm,” says Pudikabekwa. “Things change on a daily basis and it’s very important for you to know the industry that you are in.”