Female farmers sow success

Annual event recognises, celebrates women in male-dominated sector

REAPING AWARDS: Eastern Cape department of agrarian reform MEC Xolile Nqatha congratulates Fort Beaufort farmer Noluthando Mbilase.
REAPING AWARDS: Eastern Cape department of agrarian reform MEC Xolile Nqatha congratulates Fort Beaufort farmer Noluthando Mbilase.
Image: Malibongwe Dayimani

When her late mother “forced” her and her six siblings to milk cows, plough the fields and look after livestock before and after school, she thought she hated them.

But now Noluthando Mbilase, 55, a Fort Beaufort citrus farmer, exports oranges and lemons to Asia, America, China, Canada, the Middle East and Japan.She started working her Greenwood Citrus Farm in 1997 and also has 32 Bonsmara cows and 200 boerbok goats.

Her late mother’s teachings have now earned her a top national farming award – and R250,000 prize money.Mbilase and Nosiphiwo Makhaphela, 32, were crowned top entrepreneurs in the export markets and young female entrepreneur categories respectively at the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff) female entrepreneur awards at the East London ICC on Thursday night.

Daff minister Senzeni Zokwana delivered the keynote address at the annual event aimed to recognise and celebrate women farmers in the male-dominated sector.

Mbilase won regional and provincial awards before she walked away with the top national accolade on Thursday.

“Growing up at Zimbaba location outside King William's Town, we were three boys and four girls, and my mother had chickens, sheep, and a big garden. We thought she hated us when she made us do all the chores, not knowing that she was grooming us for a future in farming.

“This is how my love for farming was formed,” said the mother of one.Mbilase said she was honoured to have won the national award.

“As a business person, you must have goals and it is a good feeling that I achieved this one,” she said.Makhaphela, from Whittlesea, sells castrated rams and produces bales and hay for animal feed. She walked away with R100,000.

Makhapela and her five partners established Sobanjwa Zinkwenkwezi Cooperative in 2013 in Kamastone, in Whittlesea, which sells wool to BKB in Komani and ewes to surrounding villages.

Their cooperative, which aims to fight poverty and create much-needed jobs, is 100% youth owned – with four of its founders women.

They started with assistance from the Eastern Cape department of rural development when they received 104 ewes and four rams, feed, protein blocks, a Jojo tank and two Dohne Merino rams.

While Mbilase and Makhaphela flew the Eastern Cape flag high, it was Matshidiso Mngomezulu, whose company, Sibahle Skin Solution, which processes morula skin care products, who was the biggest winner on the night, walking away with R500,000.

In an interview, Zokwana said women should get the lion’s share of the land when the proposed expropriation of land without compensation policy was implemented.

“I think as we deal with the issue of land question, the major beneficiaries should be women and we need to make sure therefore that they have got rights to land and not only that, but also the means of production should be made available,” she said.

Another highlight of the evening was Northern Cape farmer Esther Nell's Pella Food Garden Project, which started in 2003.

Nell won the best Subsistence Producer Award for her aquaponics system, which combines aquaculture and hydroponics by growing plants and fish in one system. The fish waste provides organic food for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish.