Women in Agriculture: Lizelle Koopman, founder and owner of AgriJudah Farming Business

Lizelle Koopman, founder and owner of AgriJudah Farming Business, realised there are many graduates and young people who are seeking employment, but there are not enough job opportunities for them to realize their dream.  

"I decided to start my own farming business in March 2021 because I was concerned about youth unemployment in the country," she says. "Having a business in which at least four people are employed makes more sense to me than looking for a job where I am the only one employed."

AgriJudah Farming Business is located on a small plot of land just outside Tarental in the Limpopo Province. Lizelle currently employs two people and has seasonal casual workers who help fill in when needed. 

Why farming?

Growing up, Lizelle did not really have a set dream job; she knew, however, that she wanted to be outside in the dirt.

"Since I can remember, I've always been interested in how the food we eat grows," she says. "I remember wanting to plant every type of vegetable in my grandmother's backyard, from maize to pumpkins."

Though she does not come from a farming background, her grandparents worked on a maize, groundnuts and wheat farm near and in the Northern Cape.

"I had never thought about becoming a farmer until I attended tertiary school and studied Crop Production at Tshwane University of Technology," she shares.

After her internship, she worked for a nursery in Tzaneen for a little over a year in order to gain experience. 

Having gained experience, Lizelle launched her farm on donations and small funds from her family and friends who believed in her. She plants tomatoes and okra conventionally since this is the method she learned to use. 

"This method has proven easy for me to manage," she says. "Both my tomatoes and okra are doing well. I supply Spar Letsitele with both tomatoes and okra, and I sell both locally at the market," she shares.

Having only been a farmer for a short time, Lizelle has had no adverse harvests. Although she is facing some challenges with pests and diseases, especially with tomatoes that she grew out of season, she is learning quite a bit from these experiences. 

"I am most grateful for these experiences, and there isn't a better way to learn than through first-hand knowledge," she says.

In addition, she has had challenges growing her sales. As she does not have a vehicle, her sales are slowed down, causing the demand for her products to decrease.

"Due to this, I'm losing clients, as most of them require deliveries," she explains. 

Building Her Brand

Lizelle seized the opportunity and tapped into Limpopo's thriving agricultural sector in order to find and expand her customer base.

"I have had no trouble getting customers, she says. "Providing quality produce to potential customers allowed me to build a customer base by appealing to their appetite. Soon, I started receiving calls from buyers who were interested in buying my produce. In spite of the fact that it is not as often or as frequently as I would have liked it to be, it is at least something worth celebrating."

In contrast with other up-and-coming and seasonal farmers, Lizelle says her company has not yet effectively utilized social media.

"The reason for this is that I haven't been marketing on these platforms consistently, but now that business is picking up, it will quickly become a very useful tool for marketing my products," she says.

Though she doesn't have a mentor yet, Lizelle doesn't hesitate to ask other farmers for advice about production. Among the skills she has acquired through farming are time management and planning Crop protection, marketing, sales, and record keeping. 

"I keep track of most of my farming operations, especially regarding cash flow, which helps me to do my budgeting more efficiently, keep track of money coming and going, and find ways to save money, she says."

Women In Farming

In recent years, women have become increasingly involved in commercial agriculture. As Lizelle states, the change is a result of the revolutionary time in which we are living in, in which women are taking charge of their lives and breaking free from rigid social norms dating back to hundreds of years.  

"Traditionally, commercial farming has been a male-dominated industry, and many women have shied away from it because of this," she says. "Nowadays, many women are determined to overcome the obstacles society has placed in their way in numerous fields, including agriculture. This is because women are quite formidable and incredibly resilient in the face of opposition."

While Lizelle says the government has not offered her any assistance, she does believe that the government is actually encouraging women to enter agriculture in some way, both financially and otherwise. 

"There is, however, no sufficient means of dispersing information, at least not at the rate at which women are getting involved in farming," she says.

Nevertheless, she acknowledges that women still face a number of challenges in the industry. 

"I have observed that women are required to work twice as hard to close deals, negotiate proposals, or run their farming businesses as a whole, especially when it is a male they are dealing with," she says. "I have never experienced discrimination, but I have come across slight altercations where I had to be assertive in order to get things done."

Lizelle believes that nothing or no one can stop you from achieving your dreams except yourself. 

"Where there's a will there's a way," she says.

Furthermore, she believes in the importance of education for effective and successful farming. 

"A formal agricultural qualification is not necessary, but one does need a basic knowledge of agriculture," she says. "Without proper preparation, you may miss many small details that may cost you over time. A theoretical and practical education along with some experience are both necessary."

Lizelle encourages women who are interested in starting a career in commercial farming to consider the following:

1. Don't rely on funding initiatives as a starting point, start with what you have! Make sure you have sufficient capital. This is the backbone of your farming business, for daily operations and such.

2. Have access to transportation. Having mobile access also allows you to connect with clients on the go and make deals on the go, increasing your client base as you travel.

3. Quality produce is the best way to introduce yourself into the market; for a new farmer. Buyers are not going to buy your product because they know you; they rely solely on the quality of your produce.  

Future Plans

Although Lizelle is passionate about farming, she makes sure to take time for family and friends. 

"My farming business consumes a lot of my time, so when I have free time I spend it with family and friends," she says.

Her future goals include expanding her farms in the Northern Cape. 

"Even though it may be new territory, it will be progress, and for me, progress is motivating and inspiring. Nevertheless, home is where the heart is," she says.

To get in touch with Lizelle, connect via Instagram and Facebook. Or you can send her orders via Whatsapp: 061 726 1971.