Self-belief key to farming

Mango farmer Makgoro Mannya warns women who want to go into farming as a career to be prepared to work hard.

Mango farmer Makgoro Mannya warns women who want to go into farming as a career to be prepared to work hard.

Mannya, from Limpopo, is the winner of this year's Female Farmer of the Year award.

She topped 34 other women farmers from across the country who were competing for the title, and walked away with R150000.

The glittering event was held at the Emnotweni Arena in Nelspruit on Friday.

The other three winners, Roster Mathabela from KwaZulu-Natal, Nomathamsanqa Madliwa from Eastern Cape and Sonja Ferreira from Western Cape each won R100000.

They beat the other candidates in the following categories - top producer for household, top producer for informal markets and top producer for national markets, respectively.

Mannya, a mother of three, started her business, Ditubatse Business Enterprise, with her sister Kgwadu Ramokgopa in 2005.

They started operating the farm in April last year.

In addition to farming mangoes, the enterprising sisters also produce beans, guavas, butternut, cabbage, litchies and avocado pears.

As the business grew and the demand for mangoes increased, Mannya and Ramokgopa applied for a loan at the Land Bank to buy a second farm that was already producing mangoes.

They export their fresh produce to Botswana, Madagascar and Europe.

The women have created 86 permanent jobs and 40 part-time positions.

But Mannya said that running a farm is not as glamorous as some people believe it to be.

"It is hard work. For starters, you cannot run the farm by sitting on the telephone. You have to be on the farm physically every day to make sure things run smoothly," Mannya says.

She says that her typical day starts at 5am.

"I have to be at the farm early to ensure that the produce is ready for the market," Mannya says.

She checks if all her customers have received their produce and also how much money was made. She also checks the market price.

"If, for instance the product was not sold, I have to find out why and come up with plan B. I have to look at things such as costs for transporting products to the markets outside the province and decide if it's worth supplying those outlets.

"If it's not, I have to negotiate with local markets to buy more of the produce.

"This requires quick thinking because sometimes the goods are already being loaded on to trucks," she explains.

Mannya, who describes herself as an "ordinary girl from the village", says she got into farming by chance.

After graduating from the University of Venda in 1994 where she studied public administration and learnt how to make a home-made atchaar, Mannya started a catering business.

She served her home-made atchaar with all the meals.

"People loved my atchaar so much that they suggested I sell it separately in bottles.

"The demand for it increased and I started focusing on it. That's basically how the business was born," says Mannya.

She says getting the farming business off the ground required not only hard work but determination and believing in the product.

"I found that as a black woman farmer I had to work triple as hard to get clients. As farming is still white-dominated, I had to work very hard to convince big markets to buy from me. I persevered because I believed in the product," says Mannya.

Her tips to would-be female farmers is to believe in yourself and your product, work hard and have a good support system.

Tips on how to get started in farming:

l Identify a farm and know exactly what you want to do.

l Visit Land Affairs offices to check whether the farm has a land claim against it.

l Approach any financial institution. Tell them about your concept and the bank will assist you in drawing up a business plan.

l Depending on how much you qualify for, the bank will then assist you to obtain a government grant through its Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.

l The government, through its LRAD programme, will give you a portion of the loan and the bank will provide the balance.