A Farmer's Guide to Success from GIBS Corteva Roundtable

A recent roundtable discussion by the Gordon Institute of Business Science's (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA), in collaboration with Corteva Agriscience, focused on practical partnerships between women farmers. A roundtable discussion called Flourishing Farmers - Harvesting a Future in Farming was held to find solutions to build leadership and transform the landscape for African women farmers.

Susanne Wasson, President of Corteva Agriscience’s Crop Protection Business Platform, said in her introduction, “We need partnerships and long-term commitment to bring more women into leadership roles in agriculture”. 

Miranda Hosking, Managing Executive for Social Education at GIBS added that agriculture remains and continues to be a growth sector. “There’s a lot of hope placed in agriculture. The National Development Plan as an example, states that the sector is supposed to produce and contribute large numbers of jobs to the economy by 2030. It is impossible for us to do that without us partnering with partners like Corteva, but also with entrepreneurs who are literally getting their hands dirty to grow the agriculture sector and to grow the economy through the sector, and to facilitate the job creation that is essential for our country and our future”.  

A conducive environment for sustainable farming can be created when government, the private sector, and farmers themselves collaborate. However, the solutions offered in the discussion were certainly not academic. Practical ways were emphasized to assist women in succeeding in the sector.

The panel, made up of experts with hands-on experience in the industry, included Wasson, together with keynote speaker, Lydia Sasu, Executive director for the Development Action Association in Ghana; and panellists: Yewande Kazeem, founder of Wandieville Media in Nigeria, Eric Mauwane, owner of Oneo Farms in South Africa; Patience Koku, CEO of Replenish Farms in Nigeria; and Andre van Rensburg, category lead for Agriculture at South Africa’s Tiger Brands. In understanding the challenges farmers face, the panelists discussed how to create a better future for women in agriculture.

Working as a collective

The partnerships are not limited to those with the government or private sector. The African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” cannot be more applicable. Those on the panel agreed that for a farmer to succeed, they should work together with everyone in the agricultural value chain.

Sasu emphasized the importance of setting up agricultural associations for women, particularly smallholders. Through associations, women can pool their land and resources, sell their products jointly, and gain greater market access. In addition to giving women a voice, strong associations can ensure that women farmers, collectively, add value to the industry. Kazeem went a step further to say women should not only work together, but should also advocate for other women in the sector. She said, “As women we face challenges. We can think of 10 reasons why we can’t do something, rather than all of the reasons that we can.”

Van Rensburg spoke about the value of economies of scale. Collectively, he argued that women could provide many agro-processing businesses by supplying them with agro-products that would make them more competitive in the formal agricultural sector. In addition, the collective would be able to utilize their resources more efficiently by employing sustainable farming practices. Furthermore, economies of scale would allow women to save money on bulk purchases of seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, and equipment, making them more competitive in the market and able to see higher returns on their investments.

A further partnership mentioned was farming enterprise supplier development (ESD) that would help small-scale farmers learn and gain access to markets. Many of South Africa's large agricultural corporations, including Corteva and Tiger Brands, offer programmes that assist small scale farmers, supplying them with education, advice, support, and a guaranteed market for their goods.

Holistic education 

Education was the theme under the umbrella of a sound partnership. The afternoon's conversations were all woven together by this golden thread. It was emphasized again that women farmers should have easy access to a holistic overview of the farming ecosystem. Increasing their success requires a thorough understanding of sustainable farming practices, finance, the agricultural value chain, and legal and regulatory frameworks impacting their sector.

Policy and Regulation

Sasu pointed out that understanding laws, policies, and regulations is imperative for women farmers. Land ownership, environmental policies, and food quality standards are just a few of the issues that impact farmers every day. In addition, it was noted that as farmers expand their business activities into the export market or into niche sectors, such as organic farming, they then also have to keep an eye on regulations regarding pesticides, chemicals, packaging and food quality. 

Finance and business skills

Finance was also mentioned as a significant challenge for women farmers. Women who do not have access to finance can't purchase equipment, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, and other inputs they need to sell their produce. However, finance is more than just access to money. Koku emphasized that any farmer must possess bookkeeping and financial management skills. According to her, no farmer can get formal financing without a strong set of accounts. For women to become leaders in the sector, they need access to a wider range of financial and business education. Corteva's key initiative has been to sponsor 30 women to attend the GIBS EDA course designed especially to educate women on the business of farming.
Value chains

A multifaceted discussion covered the entire value chain. The role of women in agriculture goes beyond those who work the land. Through a variety of different professions within the agricultural value chain, women have a range of possibilities to make a difference. Having a better understanding of the value chains allows women to better understand how to access markets. They can decide how they want to market their produce, whether to supply corporations like Tiger Brands with their products or whether to add value through agro-processing, such as processing tomatoes into pasta sauce or making fish fingers with the fish they catch every day. 

Agricultural focus

Both Koku and Mauwane, both grassroots farmers, urged women to specialize in one or two products. In this way, they could hone their expertise and focus on one crop at a time. The key to successful farming was ensuring high yields, consistently producing, and ensuring the quality required by commercial buyers. Koku spoke specifically about improving yields. As she pointed out, small scale farmers will not compete in the commercial sector if their yields are significantly lower than those of commercial farms, which brought the discussion back to education and using better farming methods in order to maximise outputs.  

The value of storytelling

Talking to fellow farmers is the best way to get education, said Mauwane. Farmers entering the sector will only succeed after trial and error. This is why Mauwane urged farmers to discuss, and listen to, the holistic farming experience. He said there are school fees to be paid. Koku and Mauwane urged farmers to remain resilient because things do get better. However, story telling also works the other way around. Kazeem urged farmers to find their voice and let people know what they are doing. Through the sharing of their stories, women farmers are better able to connect with people in the agricultural ecosystem who can provide valuable support and mentorship.     

A practical conclusion 

At the end of the discussion, there was a Q&A session where women and men alike asked for practical advice and strategies to make their ventures successful. Perhaps the tip for today was very simple. It's only through experience that you will learn. It's best to start small and volunteer to get a feel for the business before investing your savings. You can't become a successful tomato farmer until you have weeded out some rotten tomatoes.