Students say they don’t have money to start a business. And no, they don’t have a plan. But if they are from the rural areas, “I usually call them millionaires”.

So said Dr Mochaki Masipa, Dean of Students at the University of Limpopo, at the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla 2022 that was held in Gqeberha from 19 to 21 July.

Dr Masipa (right) was one of three speakers during a think tank session about women in agricultural entrepreneurship, on the topic, How might student women create financial and food security for themselves through agripreneurship. The other speakers were Eastern Cape poultry farmer, Ms Nobulele Nzima, and Dr Poppet Pillay, Director at the Durban University of Technology’s Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

Dr Masipa explained why she calls students from rural areas millionaires. “We don’t see what we have. If people could see what they have, they wouldn’t even bother looking for jobs, or sit (aimlessly) at home. I come from a rural area, and I’m very proud of that. I always tell students we’ve got plenty of land, resources, everything. But no, they don’t see that.”

She said she once asked a lady with the surname “Zulu”, who was struggling to get a job, where she was from. It turned out to be a place richly endowed with avocados and mangoes. And Dr Masipa told her that she wishes to go to a shop and find a box of avocados branded “Ma Zulu Avos”.

“What is difficult with that? All you need are the right people to assist you to get your product right.” She said knowledge was also important. “If you’ve got a hectare, and you know what to do with that hectare, you will know what to plant on that soil,” said Dr Masipa.

She said she liked the idea of business incubations because they could awake an awareness in people of what they have, and what they could do with it. “Coming from a rural area, you can do just about anything,” she said.

Women are reluctant to start agricultural businesses

Dr Masipa said it was important to change women’s mindsets, saying that even those majoring in agriculture in post-grad tend to say they will be a consultant and “get a guy to do the things I don’t want to do”. That is why she advises people to register co-operatives and manage them. She said women tend to prefer that.

“We have a problem,” she said, recalling an offer of R250,000 from the Department of Science and Innovation, that was made to women below the age of 30, to start businesses. “They battled to get takers.” She said she later started a small group of men, and a woman with a master’s degree in agriculture as the consultant. Today, one man is specialising in pigs, the other has a chicken farm and the third is into ploughing. “They have not bought anything. There’s nothing about money there. I’m just talking about the things they had at their own homes,” said Dr Masipa.

The second speaker in the think tank, Ms Nobubele Nzima (left), founded a poultry business, Bellarosa WIP Productions, and a cooperative of the same name. Although she had studied business, she did not initially have farming in mind. After graduating from Nelson Mandela University with a BCom Honours in Business Management, she worked in the corporate world.

“I got tired of getting peanuts that were not taking me anywhere,” she said, as she decided to take her savings back to Mbatha in the Eastern Cape and became a poultry farmer focusing on egg production.

First, she registered a company before registering a cooperative, to bring in other people. Besides sharing expertise, the cooperative was a strategy to attract government support. Nzima also registered a not-for-profit, Future Builders Foundation, which teaches young people about entrepreneurship, thereby addressing high unemployment.

She concurred that opportunities do exist. She resigned from her job in February 2020, two months before the CoViD-19-induced lockdown. “That’s when I started working. And I have done so much,” she said, crediting support from government and other institutions. She reiterated that opportunities abound for young people prepared to knock on doors. “But funders need to see your vision in a business plan that says: ‘I want to go from A to B and C’.”

Cultivating cannabis is an option

She said the Eastern Cape had the second highest number of cattle producers in South Africa, with agribusiness (mainly livestock and horticulture) being the main source of income in that province. However, “it is a male-dominated industry. Women are just too scared to do it,” she said.

Among unexplored streams of farming, she mentioned snails keeping for cosmetic products; bees for honey, rabbits, and white maize farming for white mielie meal. She also mentioned a big market for cannabis, largely for medical use, with programmes in place in the OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo municipal areas. She said an investor had joined forces with government to build Lusikisiki College, opening soon to train farmers in cannabis production.

Where to get help

The Department of Social Development had recently provided funding for Nzima’s business infrastructure. Other possible funding sources include the Industrial Development Corporation’s (IDC’s) Agrifund and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), which requires would-be applicants to do a five-day business course before providing up to R50 000 grant in the form of a voucher to buy equipment or whatever is required for the business.

Nzima also mentioned practical help available in the Department of Agriculture’s extension officers, who go onto farms to share expertise, provide seedlings, animal feed or medicinal help.

“It is said that Africa’s population is 60% youth and 15% female landowners. Now the government is trying to focus on women and youth to transform agriculture in Africa. Agribusiness is a means for community development and empowerment,” said Nzima.

Towards agripreneurship

Dr Poppet Pillay (right), who participated in the think tank virtually, said the importance of agribusiness could be summed up in “No farmers, no food, no future.” She advised students eyeing farming to appreciate that this was not a 9-to-5 job. It needed passion and commitment.

Her tips to farming aspirants included:

  • Be conscious of what you eat and its impact on you and your mood;
  • Experiment with a food garden at home, such as a herb garden; and
  • Research business opportunities along the value chain, such as processing, for example, making pickles and jams, or other forms of agribusiness such as transport, logistics and labelling.

Growing a business out of diversity

Dr Pillay shared the case study of Umgibe Farming Organics, started by one Nonhlanhla Joye (left). “She is part of DUT’s Centre for Social Entrepreneurship business incubator in Durban, a truly amazing woman in terms of what she has achieved and how she started off,” said Dr Pillay.

Ms Joye was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and started growing vegetables in her backyard. Soon she was able to supply other people. She is no longer ill, and the business has thrived. Umgibe has a turnover of about R3.5 million per quarter, has more than 40 cooperatives in its network, and has trained thousands in agribusiness.

Pillay said Joye now heads the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance Working Group on Food Security and Environmental Safety. Umgibe’s website, which lists a string of awards such as the 2017 Impact2 Global Female Entrepreneur of the Year competition, won in Paris, describes the company as ”the rope of hope that pulls up unemployed and underserved communities”.

Joye started an initiative where schoolgoers grew seedlings (see above), sold 80% back to her and kept the remaining 20%. By selling to her, they learned how to become entrepreneurs, and about production and the importance of organic food.

Umgibe does not only teach surrounding communities about organic food farming. The company is now also involved in food processing as shown below. [Photos sourced from the Umgibe website’s photo gallery.]

Pillay said an agribusiness such as Umgibe, which supplies large companies with fresh produce, is “not just about working the soil. It is about managing your business. If any young people would like to connect with her, she would be willing to assist them,” she said.

Start your business while still a student

Dr Pillay advised students to become involved with university incubators. They are free, which “means you get the support for absolutely nothing. There are so many opportunities you could have access to, in terms of business development. So, I would encourage students not to wait until you’ve finished your degree but to start exploring things now.”

Ntsiki Mkhize, the founder of MentHer, a mentorship network supporting female social entrepreneurs, who facilitated the session, reinforced this idea, saying being a student was a great time to start a business. “People are sympathetic, people will listen and people will try to support the business. So, you can make those mistakes while you’re young,” she said.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa

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