An interview with Khani Hlungwani - Analyst at Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy

Khani Hlungwani is an analyst in the commodity markets and foresight division of  the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP). She is responsible for updating and data management of macro-economic and international price data and the development and maintenance of sectoral PE models for selected South African commodities. 


Through model development and research, Khani has gained valuable experience related to the beef industry in South Africa. In this interview, Khani talks about her highly rewarding career path and how mentoring has contributed to her journey.

What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up? How did you find out about your current career and what is it that attracted you to it?

Like most people, I thought I would be a doctor, a paediatrician, to be exact. However, I realised I couldn't stand the sight of blood and suffering children. I then enrolled in a chemical engineering degree at the University of Pretoria with the hope of working in the food industry. By then, I knew I wanted a career in the food industry but I did not want to be a food scientist as I thought that would limit me to a lab, and I very much love working with people.

Engineering did not provide me with the excitement or the opportunities that I was seeking. So, I then spoke to one of the professors and told him my issue. We then looked at different options until I found agricultural economics. I have never heard of it before, but it was everything I was looking for. I have always loved economics and wondered how markets worked, how trade happens between countries and who makes the decisions. When I first switched to the Agricultural Economics course, I spent my birthday at the library, and I loved every minute of it. There was, and still is, so much for me to learn, and that is exciting. 

What does your job entail? 

I work as a market analyst for agricultural commodities. My job includes looking at international, regional, and local market trends. For a specific commodity I look at what is influencing demand, supply, prices, trade, etc. It involves a lot of data and trying to make sense of the numbers.

What are the challenges and benefits of your job?

Challenges: I’d say keeping up with all that is happening. The economy is dynamic. There is a lot of volatility and uncertainty, and all of it makes keeping up quickly with everything a challenge.

Benefits: there is a lot. I get to work with brilliant people from different walks of life. I have had the opportunity to travel and experience life outside of South Africa. Lastly, I get to be part of this amazing industry called agriculture.

Who has been your greatest support, coach, mentor in your career? How do they help you?

Wow, I have three. It's sesiHlami Ngwenya. I remember attending a seminar she gave on the opportunities available in the agriculture sector, and that completely changed my perspective about the industry. After completing my studies, sesiHlami helped me to apply for opportunities within the industry. The work she does has always inspired me. 

Since the launch of my career, the two people who have mentored, coached and supported me have been prof Ferdi Meyer, director of BFAP, and Dr Tracy Davids, my manager within the commodity division. Not only are they two brilliant/beautiful minds, but they have also been mentoring me and others to reach their level. 


What is it like to work as a woman in this field? 

It’s interesting. Agriculture is very much a male dominated field, so being part of the industry puts an interesting twist to it.

There are a lot of opinions out there on closing the gap for females in the agriculture sector in their entire value chain. What is your take? 

I think women should not shy away from agriculture, be it primary agriculture (farming) or a professional within the industry. There are many opportunities. In my experience, many people are willing to help should you want to be in this field. I say, let us not shy away from this industry.

What skills (soft and technical) do you think a person should have if they want to pursue a position like yours?

I’d say communication is one critical skill. It is because we, as analysts, often take something that would not make sense to a person without economics, agricultural or statistics knowledge and make it understandable. So, one must try and communicate in the best possible way. Another skill I’d say you need is social or people skills. One cannot work in agriculture and not love people. 

What advice would you give to young women who are aspiring to be in your role, or who maybe haven't even considered it as a career?

Please come to agriculture. It is one of the most fulfilling industries you can work in. There are endless opportunities, whether one loves science, economics, numbers etc. There is room for you in the sector. We need more women and youth in this space. 

If you are not working, what do you do to relax?

My faith is an integral part of who I am, and so a fellowship is very important to me. Going to church not only relaxes me but also gears me for the week ahead. 

I also love working with young people, so I volunteer for an organization called Junior Chamber International. We do community work, youth/personal development, leadership training, etc. 

Of late, I have become a gym fanatic. After the lockdown, I hit the gym hard, and I love it.

So, what’s next for you? Where do you hope to be in the next few years? 

I am completing my Masters in Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management, with a focus on international trade. I want to practice in that space for a while before embarking on a journey to a doctorate. Although I want a break from academia for a year or so, I still want to have a PhD.

So what can you do with an agricultural economics degree?

Agricultural economics can work in banks, credit unions, insurance companies, legal firms, public and private sectors. Some agricultural economists spend their time in an office, performing calculations and analysis on a range of data. Others spend their time in the fields, surveying land, interviewing farmers and performing research.

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