Across the globe, International Women’s Day is observed today. In 2021 the focus is on the efforts of women and girls around the world to shape a more equal future as well as their contribution to the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Magda du Toit met two women at the top of their game, at the forefront of mechanised farming in South Africa.
Women form the backbone of many rural economies across the globe, and by being part of agriculture, play an important role in poverty reduction and food security.
Globally women comprise between 40 and 78% of the agricultural work force and constitute 60–80% of smallholder farmers. Yet only 15–20% of landholders in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Despite this, women continue to play a significant role in the agricultural sector in South Africa and accounted for roughly a third of South Africa’s new farm jobs.
As farmers, women in subsistence production systems ensure the survival of millions of people. The World Economic Forum found that female farmers reinvest 90% of the money they earn back into their farms and their communities and thus act as gatekeepers to a better future for their communities. They also play a key role in promoting sustainable farming methods and conserving traditional crop knowledge and cultivation practices.
But not all women in agriculture are subsistence or small-holder farmers, or part of the labour force in the industry. Many are actively involved in various positions along the value chain across the agricultural spectrum – commercial producers, processors, scientists, policy makers, input suppliers, research, commercial buying and procurement, or marketing and sales.
‘As women we can bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to the workplace.’
In a month that focuses on women and the role that they play in society – it is pertinent that we honour and acknowledge the contributions of mothers and women worldwide and the crucial role they play in agriculture and the impact they have on societies around the world.
In South Africa we are privileged to have women who excel in agriculture. They have a powerful stories to tell about the role that they play in the workplace but also in the broader society. Stories of stewardship, resilience, and leadership.
Santie Saayman, tractor queen of Lydenburg
It was not her specific intention to end up in the agricultural world of tractors, implements and parts, says Santie Saayman, owner and manager of Lydenburg Landini. But with over three decades of experience in the various divisions in a dealership, as well as running a Landini dealership for the last four years, she believes that women can add value and make a success in a traditional man’s world if they make the effort.
“As women we can bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to the workplace.”
Santie grew up on a farm near Ermelo and after school ended up in a dealership selling tractors and implements. Since then, one thing led to another and in 2014, Santie joined Kobus Coetzee at Lydenburg Landini as his business partner. Kobus retired end of 2020 and today Santie is solely responsible for the business.
‘When it is evident that you can offer a depth of knowledge, you don’t have to worry about acceptance.’
Having grown and excelled in a male-dominated arena, Santie believes that women are just as capable as their male counterparts managing a tractor dealership.
When asked how farmers came around in accepting her, she explained that she tries to make an impact by being rational, practical and knowledgeable, by making meaningful contributions, and by adding value to the business as well as to the client.
“When it is evident that you can offer a depth of knowledge, you don’t have to worry about acceptance,” Santie said.
The dealership sells Landini and McCormick tractors and implements and their parts and runs a workshop for repairs in support of farmers in the Lydenburg, Dulstroom and Orighstad areas.
“Row crops, livestock, and citrus are the main focus areas of agriculture in these parts, but we also have farmers who over the past couple of years invested in cherries, macadamia nuts, almonds and apples. We cater for all these farmers.”
Denise Meyer knows what she’s talking about
In the Mpumalanga town of Middelburg, in the heart of the province’s agriculture, Denise Meyer is running Alpha Agri. The dealership not only sells Landini and McCormick tractors, but also tractor parts, equipment and accessories.
According to Denise, the challenge she puts to all the staff at the dealership is to do their utmost best to make sure that the customer gets the right part, at the right time and at the right price.
Denise cut her teeth in the car industry, but after she was invited for a job interview at a Landini dealership, she never looked back.
She grew up on a farm in the area and that background and the understanding of the industry is a great advantage, she says.
“I understand the industry and know how things work on a farm. I know how farmers think and this understanding together with my mechanical and agricultural knowledge forms the basis of our excellent client relations and ultimately the success of the dealership.”
Her advice to young women who wish to enter the industry, is to work hard and gain knowledge.
“If you know your product it will enable you to give good advice and support and that will bring respect. If you deliver on what you promise, you will have the backing of the farmer,” she believes.