Farming, like any other type of business, requires many of the usual ingredients: capital, labour, and infrastructure. To make a real success of it, however, requires an additional ingredient.
Panellists Corné Liebenberg, Paul Kim, and Agnes Hove all agree on the importance of knowing your purpose while farming. They were the panellists in a discussion at the Mzansi Young Farmers Indaba on Thursday (15 September 2022).
Hove, treasurer of African Women in Agriculture, is acutely aware of the high risk involved in running a farm. She recalls many setbacks with the company’s own endeavours; setbacks that could have caused them to stop farming had they lacked a clear purpose.
“We are in an area where there is lots of frost. So, imagine you wake up one day and everything has gone brown. You have already planned, you’ve bought your seedlings, you’ve planted, you’ve watered, and then you’ve planned your revenue. But then the frost comes. And that’s it. Your whole field is gone.”
Hove says this type of challenge is common in farming, which is why people need to be sure of their goals before entering the sector.
“If you do not have a reason for why you are doing what you are doing, you will not succeed. Farming is a labour of love. It is a partnership with nature. You can’t always tell when the rain is coming, when frost is coming, or when drought is coming. It’s all about passion and knowing why you are farming. It’s not just about making money.”
A clear purpose informs your decisions
Kim, the co-founder of PeopleFlow, believes that farmers face some of the most unpredictable and difficult challenges in business, which makes having a clear purpose critical.
“Purpose helps with perseverance. Farming is a very long-term endeavour, and I know that weather volatility and market volatility, those are really difficult challenges farmers have to overcome. So, if you do not have something that is pushing you beyond that, you are going to want to leave the industry pretty quickly.”
He explains that one of the most hidden elements of running a business is also one of its most critical.
“Good decision-making needs a clear north star. There are so many different issues to consider when doing business, and if you don’t have a north star to compare your decisions against, you are not going to make those decisions wisely. A good purpose also helps you to know what to say no to. We often have many different options, so what do you say no to? What do you say yes to? A clear purpose helps you decide.”
Liebenberg agrees. He says that having a clear purpose is the most important aspect of being a farmer. And that purpose informs how you run your business.
“There will always be hardship and challenges, and really, there are endless reasons for you to be stressed out in agriculture. But you are on Earth for a reason, and the moment you know that purpose, it determines your success, your passion, and where you are going to spend your energy and time. And that gives you the energy to tackle hardships while looking at the positive side.”
Empowering your employees with purpose
Kim, using a car as a metaphor, explains why being a purpose-centred business is better than being a profit-centred business. He says cars need fuel to drive, but the purpose of a car is not to get more fuel, it is to take you to your destination.
“It’s the same thing with your employees. Of course, they want to make ends meet, but they want to look after their family at the end of the day. And if your business isn’t giving them a direction that they also want to pull into, and [not helping them] looking after their family, ultimately you put yourself between [them and their family].”
Kim says that farmers need to treat their employees like people with families, friends, and lives that need to be looked after.
“So you are going to lose your employees over time if you can’t give them a higher sense of purpose to do their work through, especially in this day and age.”
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