Lady of the land

Nomzamo Khoza, flanked by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson (left), and SA’s First Lady, Gertrude Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma
Nomzamo Khoza (overall winner) (1).jpg

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Female Entrepreneur of the Year has made it her business to live a natural life “to maintain the way we were born”. Budding young entrepreneur Nomzamo Khoza farms herbs in the Mnini area, near Port Shepstone, and her company owns a farm, a nursery and a processing factory that produces herbal body products and food seasonings.

 She also owns several outlets internationally, including in Argentina, and she is in the process of finalising plans to launch in the USA. She employs 120 people — most of them women and youngsters — and recently won the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Female Entrepreneur of the Year award.

In today’s day and age we find a lot of discourse surrounding the importance of empowering women to take charge in the business arena, among the many other faculties of life, with the intent to exceed, succeed and serve as role models for the large number of youths looking for ways to become self-sustained and independent. Khoza (27) is both a mother and entrepreneur who looks at agricultural produce from an economic and healing vantage point with a strong emphasis on empowering other African women to start utilising the land and its abundant resources — her business is committed to the development of rural communities by providing business and farming skills.

Khoza’s  farming enterprise makes 100% natural products, People’s Bio Oil and Morana Fire for Africa, and produces 201 natural products such as tonics, hair food, body products and seasoning made from the moringa tree.

This tree grows in Africa and Asia and its leaves, which can be chewed or ground to a powder, are considered a super food because they are rich in vitamins A and C. They are also excellent sources of calcium, potassium and protein.

She also grows chillies and parsley, which are dried for seasoning. The enterprise employs 120 people in its nurseries, farm, offices and factory. Khoza received R1 million in prize money and says she had not expected to get this far with her venture. “Agriculture right now is the only way to go,” she says.

For Khoza, growing up in KwaZulu-Natal exposed her to the way many African women engage with the land and agriculture in an attempt to sustain a living and raise their families. After finishing school, she went on to become an accountant, which to her generation (as she describes it), was one of the few fields you could see yourself heading in due to the scarcity of the skill and need thereof within a black empowerment framework. It was, however, her love for the land and the ‘veld’ that called her back to her roots and inspired a passion that has now ignited and become a true success story.

Khoza’s passion for working with the land is deeply rooted in the way she has seen African women engage in rural environments, especially the ‘veld’, with a lifestyle that is both dependant and utilising of the many resources it offers. Stepping into the male dominated export and business arena, she feels there is no need for quarrel, it is about time that women occupy a more central role in these industries and that any resistance that might be experienced could most likely be ascribed to a lack of understanding of the new shift that will see women at the head of such industries. She also feels that rural settings like the ‘veld’ are ready to rise and make a matured contribution to the trade industry as its utility becomes expanded to include groups such as women living off the land.

“There’s nothing else that is more important to me as a South African and as an African women than farming and the land. That’s where farming starts as an African women, that’s where we are so often found; in the ‘veld’, doing planting and whatsoever. Whenever it is taken to a business, then it changes and it goes to the man. So I believe as a young black person, especially as a women, I wanted to make a change to shift it from just the ‘veld’ to a business.

“I’m talking about the shifting between ‘veld’ and taking it to business, because there are many opportunities out there and when you go around in all the countries you see how much women work and how they get themselves into doing all the work, any type of work. So that’s how I was inspired to just start planting and then see other countries and being able to give them what I can from South Africa,” she says.

According to Khoza, she started the business at home, and this works well for her with regard to her current family life. Ever so often women find themselves in the compromising position of having to work and simultaneously raise a family, the double shift as it has been called before. For her, having all the necessary facilities like nurseries around leaves her in the fortunate position of being able to engage with her family while running the business.

Reflecting on her transition from an accountant to an agri-businesswoman, she feels it was her keen interest and passion for working with the produce of the land that led her back to the ‘veld’ and the many opportunities that lie dormant there. “When we were growing up in our stages, there was nothing really that was available for us to do except marketing and accounting. There was this emphasis that there was a very small black accountancy group in the country. So that’s where we all went. I entered into the work industry, but soon ‘realised’ that my long life passion has been in the soil.”

She was further fascinated by the way produce and utility meet to create a product that serves in the healing process. “If you take this herb and mix it with this one, it gives you energy for the whole day, or it makes you feel better when you have a headache. If you use a cabbage and you do something different with it than cooking and eating, it helps you ease some other pains in the body. So that’s where I started developing an interest in realising my passion for the soil. Of course, meeting all the people I have met along the way who have been mentoring me, seeing how old people do it, how they can actually heal themselves without going to the doctor, or going to the doctor and boosting what the doctor has given them with the natural herbs. That’s where it all started,” she adds.

Her marketing approach is varied and today expands across borders to Mozambique, Argentina and soon America. Besides making use of paper and radio marketing, her business has now established various outlets that stretch from KwaZulu-Natal to Mozambique. These outlets not only serve as external identity for the company, but also provides customers with information on the uses and application of the products sold, with a strong emphasis on going natural. “Everything we do we do naturally. Even the preservatives are natural, we want to maintain the way we were born,” she says.

According to Khoza, she is indeed seeing other young Africans learning from her experience and starting to follow a similar trend. The importance of being a good role model and mentor is something she keeps close to her heart and fondly reflects on the significance her own mentors have played in her life. “I had a lot of mentors, for instance, our grandfathers. As black people, we have a lot of traditional knowledge. We have all the people in the communities and I am fortunate to have my husband in the farming industry as well. So everything I know I studied from here and there and doing courses for agriculture and my mentors played an important part in this process,” Khoza says.

Looking at the export industry however, she finds herself in an arena that is now for the first time seeing individuals of her calibre approaching the market. This is indeed a big step forward in the promotion of empowering black women in previously impenetrable markets. When asked about resistance, she feels it is not so much envy but rather lack of understanding that fuels conflict.

“I believe it is lack of knowledge. If I am doing something new that you do not have knowledge of, you might push me away since you do not understand what I am doing. Maybe they are used to a certain type of working environment, so conflict does occur,” she adds.

Khoza feels strongly about equipping others with the necessary skills to advance in the business world. Her training as a chartered accountant has certainly proved to be quite useful in terms of equipping her with the basic business skills needed to start her business. She feels strongly about passing this knowledge on to others in the hope that it provides them with the rudimentary skills needed to start thinking like an entrepreneur. “We have a lot of people that start a business, but fail as they go ahead, not because they don’t know how to run the business, but because they don’t really have a basic understanding of what a business is. That’s the bottom line,” she comments. 

“It all starts with giving the person an understanding of what they are really into. For example, if you have staff and they work for you, don’t just make them work for you. Let them know what you are doing. They are not going to take over your company, just give them the understanding that if you are making a powder from parsley, what is it good for, why you are doing it and how are you doing it. That is the sort of training we try to focus on. If you want to start a nursery, you are going to have to go into the forest without having any money, but the passion must drive you there. From there on you must be able to keep track of everything that you are doing. You must be able to know that if I am doing this or if I am taking this risk, how it will impact my business.”

As for the future, there is the exciting duel anticipation of having her next child as well as expanding her exports to North America. “After the baby is born I am heading to the USA to finalise the deals that we have been talking about, as well as looking to export to the whole world as well as continuing with the training we provide. We are providing training for the local communities so they are able to start their own nurseries,” Khoza says.

Being black, female and South African, Nomzama Khoza sends out a clear message that the market is indeed open and accessible to everyone who dedicates the time and effort to channelling passion into success. She serves as template of and representative for the new generation of black business owners who are stepping up and claiming dignity through self-empowerment. Her love for the land has been close to her heart and she is taking an overlooked area — the veld — capitalized on, the veldt, and capitalizing on it, across international borders.

Michael Meiring

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