Women in Limpopo are setting a precedent for women in agriculture

Agriculture for many years has been thought of as a “male profession” but several women at Red Sun Hortitech in Tzaneen, Limpopo are putting this notion to the test. They have set out to prove that women can stand on their own in this dynamic and ever-changing industry.

On any given day there are over 130 women working at this SGASA accredited commercial nursery, ensuring that the avocado and macadamia nut trees are being nurtured and cared for. The skilled art of planting, cutting and grafting trees are what keeps these ladies’ busy day in and day out. They ensure that the 700 000 trees that are produced here annually are perfect.

Two of these amazing women started their journey off humbly as cleaners on the nursery grounds but have worked their way up to senior supervisors in their respective fields. These are their stories.

Maggie Shai started at Red Sun Hortitech seven years ago as a cleaner but always believed that she could do more. After watching the different processes at the nursery, she decided to ask the cutting and grafting teams to teach her. Maggie soon began to excel and was permanently made part of the grafting team. From there, her hard work and quiet but strong presence was something to behold. “Maggie’s personality is quiet and calm, but when it comes to her work, she shows incredible determination and strength. She is not afraid to stand up and speak her mind and has become a mentor for many of the younger staff here at the nursery,” says Mark Hassenkamp, Director of Red Sun Hortitech.  In 2016 Maggie was appointed as one of the Cutting Supervisors in the Macadamia nut tree nursery and the matron of the staff housing on the property.

Anna Modiba is a powerhouse and one of the senior supervisors in the Avocado nursery at Red Sun Hortitech. Her story, like Maggie’s, is one of determination and hard work. Anna started at the nursery as an entry-level worker four years ago. After each of her regular work shifts, she would go and watch how the teams were grafting the trees and became incredibly interested in this process. She taught herself how to graft and in a short amount of time became one of the best grafters at the nursery with 95% of her grafts taking. In 2017 she was promoted as a Supervisor for the avocado nursery. “I am proud of how I’ve grown and what I have learnt. I am the breadwinner in my family, and this job has changed our lives. I love what I do and seeing the trees grow and dispatching these to our growers. It is great to be part of something like this and for farmers to place so much trust in us,” says Modiba.

Both women’s success has not come without challenges. Cultural norms and expectations have made certain aspects of their jobs difficult, but both women take on every challenge with grace and confidence.

“I am proud to have both Maggie and Anna as part of our team. I think their growth is a testament to the culture of support that we have here at the nursery.  We hope to continue to inspire and help women in the community reach their full potential and feel that they do have a significant place in this industries future. Maggie and Anna are proof of this, and this is just the start for them and so many others,” concludes Hassenkamp.