Armed with two degrees as well as an MBA, Lihle Lamola spent 16 years in different business roles before deciding to venture into farming in 2021. However, the journey has not been easy and she had to endure many hardships. Her perseverance paid off and today she is one of the inspiring women who was selected for the Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).
A qualified pharmacist, Lamola has occupied business development roles over the years. This includes working with companies operating in pharmaceuticals, paint, chemicals, packaging and refinery, which has enabled her ability to understand the pressures, risks, and concerns in business.
As a visionary and entrepreneur at heart, she felt constrained in corporate and in 2014 she took a leap of faith and started her own business. For the past nine years, she has explored different avenues such as luxury retail and travel, among others.
However, in 2021, Lamola was ready for another challenge and rolled up her sleeves and ventured into farming. She got an opportunity to be a farming consulting manager on a farm in the Magaliesburg in Gauteng.
The farm was quite abandoned by the owner, she says, and she saw an opportunity to go into partnership with the farmer.
“I got into a contract agreement to manage the farm. It’s a mixed farm with livestock, an orchard and vegetable crops,” Lamola says.
Building from scratch
Lamola and her business partner have a leasing agreement to utilise the farm for their essential oil business.
“We want to plant the crops for essential oils, process them on the farm and sell the finished product to the prospective customers,” Lamola explains.
The owner agreed to lease nine hectares of land to her for this purpose. But it is taking a while to see the growth because funding comes straight out of their pockets.
“We are doing all of this from our savings so it is taking a little bit of time,” she admits. Soil sample testing has been done and they are currently awaiting further lab test results before the planting of crops.
Challenges starting up
When it comes to other challenges, security, theft and unwanted animals such as monkeys and squirrels on the farm cause major damage to her farming aspirations.
She has plans to explore alternative ways of farming. “We are also doing research on hydroponics but it’s challenging because it needs a massive capital injection to implement.”
Through it all, Lamola continues to have a positive attitude. She is well aware of the work that needs to be put in to make this work and she is prepared to do whatever it takes.
Lamola is a highly qualified woman with a BTech degree in chemistry, BComm in financial management, and an MBA. At the academy, she was questioned about why she wanted to join the Corteva programme because she is over-qualified, she explains.
“I was interested mainly because of the soft skills that I was going to acquire. In the Corteva programme, you are dealing with entrepreneurs, you discuss real-life problems, things people are experiencing and I wanted to grow in the sphere of agriculture.”
She is excited to learn, unlearn and relearn. But more importantly, she is hoping to connect with people who can also help her with funding opportunities.
Giving back to the community
Currently, they have two full-time employees who are assisting in the management of the farm.
“We plan to run the entire value chain – from the crops to the processing, packaging and then send out goods to the consumer. We want it to happen on the farm and we will be hiring people from the community. It is all part of the bigger business plan,” she says.
What keeps her motivated, is that she believes you can’t go wrong with farming. The world always needs food and better health. Through her essential oils business, she wants to play her part in enhancing people’s health.
With farming and a positive attitude, Lamola will not only improve people’s health but also make a difference in the lives of others.
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