She has always been helping the community, whether in her previous job or now as the farm owner, where she employs women in the nearby village. Tandiswa Hopa embraces everything farming has to offer. She is among the women selected for Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Hopa took one look at the Riverbend farm in Mooiplaas in the Eastern Cape’s Amathole District, and she fell in love. She knew this was the place she wanted to build from scratch, no matter how long it took or how hard it would be.
She used to work for a development funding organisation, where they were responsible for assisting community development projects in accessing funding. Her interest in farming was sparked during these trips.
“Whenever I visited the farmers, I would be curious because I could see that agriculture is wealth. So, I made the decision that when I resigned from work, I would acquire a farm,” Hopa says.
And she followed through by resigning in 2016. Finding the right piece of land was not easy, Hopa admits, and she went to the internet for help.
“Google became my friend – I would look for farms for sale, but the farms were expensive. We found a local agent in the Great Karoo because that is the area I fell in love with. The agent took us around to look to see the farms on sale. When we came to this one, he said, ‘It’s not really a nice farm – it’s in between other farms, which means you do not have immediate access to the road’. But when I saw this farm, I said, ‘this is it’, and it was not that expensive.”
The 44-hectare farm had not been used for agricultural purposes for a long time. To Hopa, it presented a great opportunity. “When I saw the farm, I saw a gold mine because it is right on the riverbank.”
Farming roots run deep
Working the land is nothing new to this determined wife and mother. Growing up, her family used to have a backyard garden at home. “To work in the garden was one of our chores. From a very young age, from six in the morning on school holidays, everyone needed to work in the garden,” she reminisces.
This time around, however, the stakes were higher. They needed to revitalise the land into a working farm.
“When we moved to the farm in early 2017, we started debushing it. We started with crop production because the farm had virgin soil. I knew that if I planted anything, here it will grow because the soil is fertile.
“I started with lettuce, beetroot, cauliflower – which came out very well – and I sold that to the local fruit and veg shops. That encouraged me to do more. After that, I moved to livestock. I would acquire one or two, and I just made sure I handled the production on that side,” Hopa explains.
Since then, her farm has grown; they now farm with goats, sheep, pigs, broiler chickens and cattle. Her focus is on broiler production and vegetable production.
“We’ve planted cabbages, potatoes, red onions, spinach, and sugar beans, and we are preparing nine hectares for maize production.”
A little help from experts
Hopa is grateful for the support she has received from different agricultural organisations. “The local department of agriculture is really helping us, they’ve been providing extension services, and the membership that I have with Afasa is helping because that is where I get information on what’s happening in the world of farming.”
But Hopa was eager to learn more and wondered how she could grow even more as a farmer. She did not study agriculture, so she knew she had to find the right people to help her along her path.
“Through the Afasa network, I saw an advert for Corteva women in agriculture. I saw that if I join Corteva, I will learn the trends in agriculture and how to operate as a business,” she says. “I’m learning how to be not just a subsistence farmer, but how can I be a competent farmer. I’ve always wanted to have an agribusiness.”
She also highlights the relationships she builds within the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme.
“I love the programme because I learned how other women in agriculture conduct their businesses. The programme teaches us that there are other things agriculture is involved in, such as research on how to maximise the productivity of your farm. How can I market my produce to be a commercial farmer, and what are the requirements? How can you as a farmer identify risks in your business, and how do you mitigate those risks.”
To learn from other women is also a big motivator to her, she adds. “We’re always keeping each other on our toes and asking, ‘how are you doing and what is happening on the farm’ and talking about challenges. I had the opportunity to visit the other ladies when we were in Joburg to see how they are running their operation, and it motivates me to do better.”
Rising through the challenges
Farming is inherently risky, and there are many challenges to contend with, but Hopa is facing them head-on.
“Challenge that I face is putting the right systems in place. Yes, I have the basics, but I must make sure that I sustain the farming practices and systems that I have. I know I can only work the land for so long, so I’m already starting to think, ‘what’s next?’.
“Also, the people I’m working with on the farm have never received training, just like me. So, I must ensure I get them the necessary training; for instance, in my poultry production, it has been trial and error – so it’s capacity building for my staff and myself.”
Marketing her products, as well as making sure there are always products to sell, are other areas that require more attention, Hopa explains.
Family and community come first
As someone who has always worked with the community, creating jobs and sharing her skills are vitally important.
During planting season, she employs 14 seasonal workers – all women – from the community. Whenever extra hands are needed with poultry production, she also calls on them for help while training them simultaneously.
Her own family is her most significant support, Hopa says.
“My family is very supportive of the farm because they are starting to see it’s ours for life and it can create wealth. We’ve always talked about generational wealth, and what is important for me is to create a legacy for my children and generations to come.”
Looking to the future, they are considering expanding in two years and would try looking for another farm.
Hopa shares some advice with aspiring farmers. “It’s important to make sure you have goals. Learn as much as you can about farming because it’s always changing. Now we have global warming and climate change, and they have an impact on farming. We always must upskill ourselves to know what’s happening.”
And above all, you must love farming, she advises. “It’s not something you put on your status and show others, but it’s what you want to achieve at the end of the day.
“It’s exciting and challenging for me. There’s no turning back now – I’m in this for the long haul.”
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