Women in Agriculture: Dr Hildegard Witbooi-Masayiti - CEO, Eight Seasons Organics

Dr. Hildegard Witbooi is the chief executive officer and founder of Eight Seasons Organics. She is passionate about sustainable, regenerative and organic agriculture. She holds a doctoral degree in horticulture and is a postdoctoral research fellow at Stellenbosch University. In this interview, she talks to us about her business, her passion, and the lesson we can all learn from her work.

What sparked your interest and subsequently your foray into the field of agriculture? 

My father grew up in the farming community of Drew near Bonnievale and he always kept a food garden at our family home in Paarl. From a young age, I watched him and how he worked the garden more than the average parent, so I became familiar with the concept of crop protection. The idea of growing our own food and knowing exactly where it comes from fascinated me. During my school years, botany was my favorite subject. 

What has the journey been like, from starting your career at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden as an intern to founding an agriculture agency? 

It was a bit of a whirlwind experience, but quite fascinating how it brought me back to my original interests. I did two internships at world class institutions and this was the building blocks for what followed. I spent nine years of my career at a wine farm, tending the vines and managing systems, processes, but most importantly human resources. My journey taught me more about myself as a person, my love for helping others, to teach and to uplift. I’ve been surrounded by amazing individuals on my journey, many whom were happy to assist in any way possible to help me reach my goals. The combination of my industry work experience, academic years, my avid entrepreneur spirit and passion for regenerative, sustainable and organic farming led me to founding Eight Seasons Organics. 

3. Tell us about Eight Seasons Organics and what led to the inception of this agricultural agency. 

Eight Seasons Organics is an international agency providing professional consultation services and a holistic approach when at service to farmers. This means that the services provided to our clients will help enhance all areas of production and administration. We offer services which will enable sustainable, organic, and regenerative farming practices, while still achieving maximum results. The business concept was a brain child of mine over a decade ago. I personally care to know where my food comes from and how growing it, impacted the environment around it. It frustrated me to know that farmers have a direct influence in the food we take in to nourish our bodies and often do not even try alternative solutions for more natural farming of crops. In spring of 2021, just before the birth of my daughter, I had time to conceptualise the life I visualised for myself as a young mother, but more so as a care giver, inspiration and mentor I’d like to be for my daughter. It was important to know that I am following what I believe was set out to be my life’s purpose. To slow down climate change, through repairing our natural environment and educate on the interconnectedness of life. 

What is the approach followed by the company when it comes to providing optimal client satisfaction? 

Most farmers are concerned about the availability of existing resources. For this reason, we do an initial resource analysis of the farm/farming body. This allows the farmer to take decisions according to the guideline we provide and outlines options that could be taken during the transition period. In some cases, areas in which costs can be reduced are identified immediately before any additions of changes in the farming practices. Other than these points, we strive for excellence in all that we do, with passion, purpose, perseverance, integrity and treating people with respect are some of our company values. 

Being the founder and director, what role do you play in the day-to-day proceedings of the company? 

During the building phase of the business it is important that I’m involved as the lead advisor. Currently, to our knowledge, there aren’t any other advisory firms like ourselves. I establish new relationships and building onto the visibility of the brand. 

A career in agriculture can be tough at times. What keeps you motivated to keep going? 

Passion and purpose. But a gentle reminder of where I started, to myself, is all I need. It humbles me and gives me new energy to keep on fighting the good fight. 

What do you believe that the industry can do as a whole to promote greater inclusivity and to bring more women in leadership roles? 

Women in agriculture often only need that one chance, to get their foot in the door. I think because it’s such a physical demanding job, we are overlooked, but if a woman is given a fair chance, they are bound to impress! Entry farm position holders should be offered training and development in order to grow in the farming body and eventually enter a leadership role. A mentor is such a key role during this period. Companies should provide one on one mentorship opportunities.

With more and more farmers adopting sustainable farming models, what would be your advice for them? 

Start from the ground (soil), up! If you’re unsure, contact us!

9. We live in a capitalist economy; how do you feel about the strong influence that agribusiness corporations now exert over the organic food marketplace? 

There is clear tension between the hope of green consumerism and the great power of market dynamics. If more farmers strive for the natural path, they may just create an “invisible hand” of the market. Together with transformative movement in green consumerism, a new dimension can be reached in the economic system. 

How do you succeed both in your role and as a mother? What is your approach to maintaining work-life balance? 

I would call it life-work balance. It’s important to keep clear work schedules, prioritise and get things done immediately. I do time blocking and try to stick to it. I love that I can see my daughter grow up and take her to some of the site visits. The flexibility of doing all the tasks that I enjoy whilst time for my daughter in between is an absolute delight. 

How can women support one another in the Agriculture field? 

When we are in the position of making decisions, we have to give one another an opportunity. It’s the only way we can accelerate the involvement and inclusivity of women in the field. 

How do you manage self-doubt? 

This is not an easy question to answer. Lately I have made it my mission to meet with inspiring women in business. It serves as a gentle reminder of how powerful I am and can be with some of my concepts and ideas. It also helps to look back at where I started. 

To get in touch with Dr Hildegard, visit her website: www.organics.org.za or Instagram