Growing up, Nthabeleng Maphepha had very little interest in her father’s part-time farming operation. After working in the finance industry for a year or so, she discovered her passion for agriculture and has not looked back since. Maphepha is one of the extraordinary 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).
Maphepha has always loved going on long drives. Despite having very little interest in farming, she would often accompany her father on his trips to abattoirs simply for the joy of the journey.
“In my varsity years, the cattle were a sort of financial provider for me. My father used the money he made from farming to pay for our tuition fees. We used to drive to the abattoirs but that didn’t make much of an impact on me at first. I was just going there for the long drives. In 2017, that changed.”
A psychology graduate, Maphepha says the time she spent with her father, going on these trips and being more exposed to the sector, made her curious.
“I got to understand exactly what farming is. I got to explore it with him by going to other farms and abattoirs. It was 2017 when I decided that I will try my hand at farming, and I fell in love with it. Since then, we’ve been farming together.”
Maphepha’s first voyage into farming was on the commonage close to her home, where her father managed his part-time operation from. She explains that they continued to work on the commonage for two years until she secured a lease from the government for some farmland near Bloemfontein in the Free State.
“When I came on board, I realised that the space we were farming on was not conducive for the growth of our farming business. My role in the business then was to get a better space for the herd, so it could multiply and be more beneficial to us as full-time farmers, as opposed to being convenient for my father’s part-time operation.”
With the help of an extension officer in her area, Maphepha was able to secure the space they needed to expand their business.
Getting the right support
Maphepha explains that she has always been an admirer of the kind of work done at Corteva. When she saw the advertisement for the Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022 programme on Facebook, she jumped at the chance to apply.
“It was an opportunity that represented, for me as a woman farmer, the support I needed to enhance my business. I needed the exposure they gave to their farmers, and the training on marketing, and even the psychological support that they offer.”
One of the benefits of the programme, says Maphepha, is the opportunity to network with highly experienced professionals, something she was eager to take advantage of.
“The programme is elevated by the kind of professionals who have bigger ‘clout’, and networking with them could present more market opportunities for me. It also provides me with a more global perspective of agriculture. I saw foresaw that being in that space, I could access the world, not just the Free State or South Africa.”
Farming challenges no match for her determination
Cattle farming is not an easy industry to be in at the moment. In August 2022, the minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, announced a ban on the movement of cattle in the Free State, due to the spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The ban, says Maphepha, has had an extremely adverse effect on her operation.
“It was supposed to be a selling season for us, but with the FMD movement ban, we are still unable to sell anything. This means that I am feeding stock that was not supposed to be here anymore, which in turn means more money is going out and less money is coming in. Right now, we don’t know what is going to happen. It’s as if we are waiting for something, but we don’t know what it is nor when it will arrive.”
FMD has not been the only bump in the road for Maphepha. She says that she was young when she started farming, and she experienced a great deal of discrimination because of her age and because of her gender.
“The agriculture world is dominated by men, which is something that I had to work around as a woman. When I started farming, I had not gone to study for it, and I was young. I found that it was a challenge working with men. I remember trying to introduce some health programmes for the animals onto the commonage, and some of the men had really negative responses. They dismissed me as a young girl, and did not want to listen to me.”
Maphepha says that luckily, she does have many men in her life who do support her, so the negative commentary from other men does not really impact her very much. She maintains though that the discriminatory attitudes from men are a huge hurdle in the sector, she does not let it get in her way.
“I love challenges. Whenever I go through something and I manoeuvre my way through it, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. As much as it’s a stressor to go through challenges, I always appreciate them when they occur. My mindset is that there will be challenges. There’s no way that you can farm without any challenges.”
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