Mzansi’s #SoilSistas are a breath of fresh air in the agricultural space. And this week we travel to Kalbasfontein in Gauteng to meet maize and cattle farmer Keabetswe Mokgatla. She was also selected for Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
A supportive family might just be all the fuel you will need to start your journey as a farmer. Just ask Keabetswe Mokgatla, a 23-year-old psychology and sociology graduate from Kalbasfontein in Gauteng.
After graduating from North-West University in 2019, Mokgatla fell into a deep depression. Despite her BA degree, she was not finding employment and she desperately wanted to start earning a living.
Like many of Mzansi’s graduates, Mokgatla discovered that an academic qualification is no guarantee of employment. Furthering her studies was not an option as she had fallen out of love with the study field, and she was not ready to pursue a new route.
“I told my dad I just wanted to start working and did not know which way to take,” she tells Food For Mzansi.
Back to her father’s farm
When her father, Isaac Mokgatla, realised that she was having a hard time, he suggested that she should join him on his state-owned farm in Kalbasfontein.
“I never imagined myself as a farmer. It never came to my mind,” says Mokgatla, reminiscent of the school holidays in which she would help her father tend to his Limousin cattle.
In the process of Mokgatla moving to the farm, her father was selected for the Sernick Emerging Farmers’ programme, an initiative by Nick Serfontein, a Free State farmer who previously served on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s land reform advisory panel.
This was a lucky strike as it gave the unemployed graduate an opportunity to attend monthly incubation events along with her father.
Creating new farming networks
During the Sernick incubation period, the unemployed graduate learned loads about farming and her eyes were opened. Soon thereafter, she registered her very own agricultural enterprise.
“My father saw my interest and deregistered all of his cattle. He donated all of them to my company, along with 32 hectares of land,” says Mokgatla.
This provided her with a new purpose to pursue. Through her father’s mentorship and with the help of three full-time employees, she now manages the Kalbasfontein farm as a mixed farming operation.
“With a supportive family system, I was able to look forward, and I will forever be grateful to my dad,” she says.
Apart from the soya beans on the farm, Mokgatla also started farming yellow maize. She was able to make a once-off profit that she used to buy much-needed farm tool. Soon she set about creating her own network in the agricultural sector to supplement the one her father introduced her to.
“I LIKE TO PROVE THINGS WITH ACTIONS RATHER THAN WORDS.” – KEABETSWE MOKGATLA
Perceptions about black cattle farmers
Despite her early successes, she finds being taken seriously as a young woman in agriculture rather challenging. “Sometimes people look at you and think, ‘Ah, she’s young and she’s still wet behind her ears.'”
Changing this perception fuels her determination. “I like to prove things with actions rather than words. You know, in this industry you have to prove yourself by what you produce. People who recognise that will support you.”
When it comes to accessing new markets, Mokgatla also finds herself working against a stereotype that black cattle farmers do not manage their herds carefully enough.
“Us, people of colour, we’ve always had this thing where our grandparents were farmers, but they weren’t doing it as a business. Owning cattle was a symbol of wealth. Now I have to transition into looking at it as a business, following the proper practices such as vaccination,” she says.
Mokgatla finds that this perception impacts the prices she is able to get, even though her herd has great genetics.
“I think that is the only struggle, because the prices are not the same compared to people who were looking at farming as a business earlier than us. So, they built that reputation for themselves earlier.”
While she is now focusing on building her herd, she knows she still has a long journey ahead of her despite no longer being an unemployed graduate. She believes in never giving up and that when the time is right, everything she desires will be hers.
As a believer, the former unemployed graduate holds on to her favourite scripture. This has become a blessed assurance that carries her through her farming journey. “Philippians 4:6 says, ‘Do not worry about anything. Instead pray about everything and give thanks to the Lord.’”
Keabetswe top tips for farmers
- Love what you do. This will make you not work a day in your life. Be passionate about what you do, and nothing or no one will convince you otherwise.
- Choose your network wisely. Align yourself with people who are where you want to see yourself or that have the same mindset that you have.
- Be self-aware and self-disciplined. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
- Start a business in any field you’re in. We are a creative youth, innovative and full of ideas. We can change the state of the country. We need to have courage and take the first step.
- Be persistent. Farming has a lot of challenges. Some are out of our control, so you need to be persistent in your craft so that these challenges do not distract you from your goals.