Dimakatso Sekhoto is one of five South Africans being celebrated by Metropolitan for her successes in the agriculture industry. After pursuing a career in finance, Dimakatso left her work in 2011 to help her father with their farm and she has been inspiring and empowering other young farmers ever since.
"My father was working on a farm and he asked me to come join him. So, I was literally just helping him with the finances and that was our commercial farm that he bought with the assistance of the government," she tells us. It's been seven years since she made the decision to farm and she admits that it was quite a shift after completing a BComm in financial accounting to working in agriculture with him.
"My experience was really around learning because I needed to learn the industry because I obviously didn't know anything about the farm," she explains. She adds that her financial expertise did help her learn her way around the farm. "Because I had the finances, I worked with each division and then tried to understand how it works so that I could add value to that," she says.
Dimakatso says that she had to step in to save their 2000 hectare farm after they faced liquidation. "In that time I had to make plans to see how I could continue working because I was really interested in the industry. So, that's why I joined AFASA [African Farmers' Association of South Africa] a few years ago, trying to get assistance."
Her participation in AFASA brought to her attention the fact that young farmers need more help than they are actually getting. She took it upon herself to volunteer as a member to help out the youth and she was eventually appointed as the chairperson of AFASA Youth.
"I've started a few programs in the industry with regards to trying to assist young farmers," she says, and one of these projects is her business, Growth Shoot.
"The idea behind my business is that I need to make sure that all the support that I get, I can also give it to youngsters either in my area or across the country," Dimakatso says. "It's really around making sure that I can still transfer that access that I get to other farmers who don't have it."
For Dimakatso, many young farmers fall short of their dreams and goals because they don't have the necessary access to resources like finances, training, mentorship, and a solid market.
"Nothing is structured well enough for us young, black farmers to succeed. If you don't have one or a few of these, then you won't be successful," says Dimakatso.
In her work as a farmer, Dimakatso sees a great need in young farmers and she has taken it upon herself to assist them in whatever ways she can. "A lot of people don't realise that there are so many youngsters already participating in agriculture," she says; "I've been in the industry for seven years so all the work that I keep doing, I want to also share with those that I can."
Like everyone else who is establishing and nurturing their business, Dimakatso has faced some challenges that other young farmers can empathise with.
For many young farmers, government help is very important, and it is unfortunate that, as Dimakatso expresses, the government does not offer enough support to young farmers.
"The challenge is getting the access to the support and also coordinating well enough so that you are able to still go back to your business and focus on it knowing that you have access to all [that you need]," she says. She feels the same way about the industry itself.
"The industry exists - it's successful - but the way things are structured are just not appropriate for someone like me. There's still quite a lot of work we need to do to change a few things."
Dimakatso's advice for young people who are a part of or are interested in the farming industry?
Join a community of like-minded people. "Find an organised body so that you can understand where you're going to get your information because that's the first thing you need to do: you need to learn, you need to read, you need to understand what you're getting yourself into," explains Dimakatso. She advises that you join an organisation like AFASA, or if you're getting into poultry, join the the poultry association and so on.
Do your research thoroughly. Read and learn as much as you can about the industry: the markets, the most viable spaces to farm in, the retailers, etc., so that you can start asking the right questions once you start talking to people and getting more information.
Find you niche and run with it. "All of us in society really frown upon the agriculture because we just know farming - the ducks and the tractors and the things that seem uncool to us, yet it's not about that only," Dimakatso says. "I'm a farmer, but I don't work outside, I work in the office. That's my skill: my skill is I run a business and my business is in agriculture."
You don't have to get your hands dirty for you to be a part of this sector, and for Dimakatso it's important to her for people to understand that you can use what skills you have to contribute to the industry in a significant way.
Watch Dimakatso share her story below:
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