Women in Agriculture: Farming offers tremendous opportunities for empowerment - Pheladi Madungandaba, D.Dosage

Pheladi Madungandaba never imagined herself as a farmer. Her only exposure to farming was through family members who farmed crops, but she didn't have a close relationship with them to develop an interest in it. Farming was therefore not something she was personally interested in so she viewed it as something for others to do. 

"Like every other kid in the township, I wanted to be a lawyer," she says.

Before starting her farming venture, Pheladi was a fulltime housewife, who tried out a number of businesses in order to keep busy. Among the products she sold were online exercise programmes, hair, and so on.

Farming Journey

She currently owns and operates the farm and company D.Dosage in Maserumpark, Limpopo. The farm includes her grandparents' house, which is almost 2.5 hectares.

"This is actually my second successful business after my general dealers in Limpopo," she says. "I sold everything that you could think of in the rural areas for convenience." 

At D.Dosage, they specialize in broilers. Recently, they added layer hens. 

"I'm a big fan of poultry farming, but I couldn't limit myself to just poultry, so I have expanded into crops as well. We currently grow spinach as well."

Pheladi would love to grow all types of fresh produce. She says there is great demand for fresh produce in the area so she wants to use her space and soil in the most efficient way.

Pheladi feels at home on the farm, where no role is too small or too big for her.. She adjusts her role according to the tasks at hand, whether they are in operations, management, or marketing. In spite of the fact that it's a small farm, she has five people working for her. 

"The fact that I know my strengths and weaknesses allows me to seek out people who can help where I'm weak," Pheladi says. "However, I try to wear as many hats as possible so that I am familiar with every aspect of my business."

They currently practices organic and conventional farming methods. For poultry, conventional practices are used, but organic practices are used for crops. This is because it is cost-effective for her farm.

"Not to sound arrogant, but if you see our products you will see why all of them are best sellers and you can't compare one to another," she says.

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Despite their success with spinach, Pheladi shares that they had difficulty producing cabbage. 

"We would have loved to produce it," she says. "Water supply is a bit of a challenge making it hard to supply enough water to our cabbage section. Either we over watered or not watered enough. But we haven't entirely given up. We are still trying to make it work."
Promotions and Marketing 

With the help of social media and the good ol' traditional method of "word of mouth", D.dosage has been able to reach a larger audience. Pheladi ways her suppliers have provided her with excellent assistance and her clients have also offered support.
"Ultimately the quality of our products speaks for itself," she says. "Our produce is of the highest quality. Our produce is available online and at the farm." 

Advice To Female Farmers

Her experience as a general dealer gave Pheladi a valuable perspective on how to manage a business. 

"It is important to keep business records since they provide guidelines," she says. "The first lesson in business is to be accountable for every cent spent. This way, you will avoid financial losses. And the business records reveal whether the business is sustainable or not. Another important lesson is that success requires work, and if you are lucky enough to achieve it overnight, you are one of the lucky ones. Third, passion is the key to longevity, and fourth, regardless of obstacles, never give up."

The next skill Pheladi suggests farmers need is the ability to organize their affairs and manage their time. Additionally, she stresses the importance of interpersonal skills. 

"None of us can survive without each other," she explains. "For farmers to succeed, they need to establish strong relationships with suppliers, clients, and the community. These skills are vital." 

Additionally, she says running the farm without external financial assistance has been difficult. 

"Whew, I won't lie and pretend it's been smooth sailing," she shares. "The farm is running independently without any sponsorships. We have experienced some difficulties getting funding from the government and private sector, but we are hopeful that financial aid will come. We've started, so keep going!" 

In addition, she cautions against viewing agriculture as a quick-rich scheme. "Don't let the prospect of rich profits lead you to be driven by it - you'll notice it takes years to see any profits."

She advises farmers to be persistent, stay passionate, and take the time to study the latest developments in the field.

"I am a firm believer in education of any kind, no matter how informal it may be, she says. "Do your own research via YouTube, look for mentors and attend farming seminars. These are all forms of education that are of value."

She goes on to explain that this will be a difficult process.
"Trust me, no one has started on a high note and not suffered setbacks along the way," she says. "I know it may sound clichéd, but do not give up. Getting started is already a great accomplishment. You can find groups that share your interests and can provide you with support. There are support groups on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook."

Challenges For Female Farmers

In Pheladi's view, women are becoming farmers because they now understand the importance of being independent. 

"It is common for women to fall victim to abuse or become targets," she says. "Farming provides women with the necessary tools for survival and offers numerous opportunities for empowerment. Imagine a woman who is naturally nurturing to those around her, but now imagine what she could achieve if she was able to support more families. More women are becoming aware that they have the ability to become farmers with a little training. It's just a matter of enhancing their caregiving skills to be at a business level."

According to Pheladi, the most difficult part of her project was acquiring land and also the cost of feed for birds. 

"It is the most depressing aspect of growing birds. It is not a cheap or reasonable exercise at all. I'm still trying to find ways to overcome it, but eventually I will. What matters most is that I have started."

She warns newcomers against the false belief that farming is all smooth sailing.  

"Farming has become romanticized to some extent because there is a lack of honesty about the challenges you will face," she says. "Most people find it difficult to acquire land. I was just fortunate that my family allowed me to farm on their property. Thus, before even contemplating the dream of farming, one must first possess the land or space used for that purpose. Getting land seems beyond our reach as South Africans."  

It is Pheladi's opinion that the government and traditional leaders have an important role to play in resolving the many problems facing farmers and aspiring farmers alike. 

"I believe that traditional leaders who have acquired land should give it to women or lease it to them rather than oppress women because of their gender," she says. "Women should be given priority in agricultural training workshops, especially in rural regions, so that it is easier for them to reach markets. This should also include facilities to supply products to retail and wholesale outlets. While there are many challenges, these two seem the most important to me since I have experience with both."

Future Plans

As a seasoned businesswoman, Pheladi has big plans for the future. "I have a lot of plans and I don't want to jinx anything - hahaha; just follow me and watch the space."

During her free time, she loves to bond with her family and friends, who she says are incredibly supportive of her farming endeavours. "I make meals out of the produce I grow myself, and I sleep a lot too."