Farmers

“Brands,” it says in Kellogg on Branding, a bible on such matters, “are created through a wide range of touch points; every time customers interact with the brand they form associations. This means that almost everyone in the company has an impact on the brand, from the receptionist to the advertising manager to the customer service representative.”
A nation’s brand is made or broken by its touch points as much as any company’s.  Not all of South Africa’s touch points reinforce our value proposition.  Your correspondent has just spent several days with eight who definitely do.
Sindi Sabela, Millicent Kobo, Mapula Rampedi, Grace Mushwana, Rose Mote, Mercy Ramabuda, Makgethwa Mphogo and Felicity Fillies are not household names, but they deserve to be and some of them someday could be. They are farmers, all with a strong entrepreneurial bent, most new to the game.

They were brought to Minnesota for a week by the Department of Trade and Industry. They visited farms, processors, distributors and markets. They talked to experts on extension and cooperatives. They met the state agriculture commissioner. They engaged potential customers and partners.  They looked at ways  NGO’s  are helping immigrant and other woulde be farmers make it on the land.
They were a terrific advertisement for South Africa.
Sabela, whose smile explodes like a firework on the Fourth of July,  took up farming in 2008 after a career in academe.  When she walks she exudes a fierce but cheerful determination, accentuated by the effects of childhood polio.
She grows tomatoes at Ikhwezi Farms east of Pretoria using an Israeli-designed greenhouse system and will be planting a million seedlings over the next couple of weeks.
Her first major customer was Woolworths whose business she won by refusing to leave the offices of the company’s purchasing chief until he agreed to see her. She is now lining up Walmart. She hates to be called an “emerging” farmer and won’t be one for long at the rate she’s going.
Fillies’ eyes twinkle beneath a cloche of bleached blonde dreadlocks. She does a mean Trevor Noah impersonation.  She has never touched a drop of alcohol, her faith precludes it. Her friends tell her, “You have the kind of personality we drink to get”.
Her grandfather was a Scotsman who ran away with his wife’s maid in Colesberg.  She farms 1000 head of ostrich for meat and leather outside De Aar. The meat she exports to the EU. The leather she turns into bags and corporate gifts.  In Minneapolis  she found customers.
Mote worked for Telkom and did vocational training for prison inmates. Now she and a partner are looking to launch an integrated,  industrial scale chicken operation in Brits outputting 60 000 broilers a day.
Kobo’s father ran a petrol station before acquiring a farm near the Lesotho border in the Free State where the family keeps bees, distills essential oils, runs a hydroponic market garden, tans leather and turns  it into beautiful briefcases.
Ramabuda, resplendent in traditional dress, was once a street hawker and now owns Sithagu Farm, producing vegetables outside Musina.  She explained in isiVenda through an interpreter that she was unhappy with the prices she was getting from a well-known South African agribusiness giant. Here she hoped to learn how to become more price maker than taker.
Pigs are Rampedi’s  “passion”.   She rears them near Polokwane.  In Minnesota, she found a kindred spirit in Karen Weiss who gave up her card on the LPGA tour to raise purebred Gloucestershire Old Spot hogs.  Rampedi heads home inspired to make her own pigs free range.
Free range eggs are Mushwana’s thing. She  is proprietor of Madidi Poultry near Tzaneen and passionate about her indigenous  hens, Vendas, Matabeles and Ovambos .  Riffing on Franklin Roosevelt’s famous speech, she says they  enjoy the “Five Freedoms” —  from hunger, fear, distress, disease and unnatural confinement.
Mphogo’s company, Temothuo Consulting Agency, grows and processes mangoes, peaches, citrus, papaya, herbs, poultry and moringa leaves, turning the latter into powder for “medicinal purposes” and oil for biofuels.
 
She hopes  to build “one of the best women-owned farming companies” in the hardscrabble of Sekhukhuneland – not the best, mind, just one of them, for that is the ubuntu way. Her “business goals” include “fighting the human misery and poverty resulting from the high unemployment rate in South Africa”.
 
The last meeting of the trip was with Kevin Edberg, executive director of Cooperatives Development Services.  He closed by thanking the women and their country. “You are a very important component in the development of our human community”.
 
It was good to hear that on the day Moody’s downgraded our debt.
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