Top Free State Agriculture Female Entrepreneur Awards winner still going strong

Sometimes, winners of awards hosted by various government departments disappear into thin air and we never know exactly what happened to them afterwards.

This leads many people into questioning whether these awards are playing any positive role in helping to develop up and coming businesspeople.

Well, a Free State province farmer and agro-processor Rethabile Maimane, has proven that winning an award and a prize money can actually help those that are determined to grow, to do so.

Although, she told Mzansi Agriculture Talk that it took years of sweating and fighting against all odds to get her business where it is today, she does recognise the role played by various government grants and awards she won along the way.

Maimane came top at the Department of Agriculture’s Free State Female Entrepreneur Awards in 2019 – Provincial Winner: Category: Top Female Entrepreneur: Processing.

This after she had been running her home-based food catering service in Botshabelo, which she started with an initial investment of only R200.

To her, winning the award motivated her to grow her business from strength to strength.

The difficult journey from a survivalist business to a multi award-winning SMME was spurred on by occasional financial injections into the operation with grants won in small business development competitions sponsored by various institutions.

“After winning the big award in 2019, the Government supported her business, Golden Goose, with business advice and financial assistance to grow the business and improve the quality of the products,” she said.

She is a grain farmer who is also involved in milling and packaging of grain (Sorghum).

The business manufactures MOTOHO (Traditional Sorghum Drink) to meet the market needs in the Free State, South Africa as well as in Africa, in order to contribute to food security.

Maimane said her enterprise is in the process of implementing the second phase whereby there will be additional milling facility, with a capacity to process 250kg of any type of grain per hour, that would adequately provide for the current product ready-to-drink bottled sorghum porridge, and to introduce the newly developed diversified product range of ready to prepare fermented flour and mix-and-drink porridge largely aimed at the export market.

But how did she manage to overcome the tough competition in this market?

“The agro-processing and food manufacturing sector in South Africa is both skills- and capital-intensive. It is therefore dominated by a few experienced and well-resourced market players who make it difficult for new entrants to access opportunities and establish a foothold in the market.

“An aggressive advertising and sales promotion campaign was then undertaken, using all possible communication and distribution channels, and this helped to create maximum awareness and product experience within the target market segments,” she said.

Maimane said the enterprise’s strategy was to hinge on lower production costs, pursued through production of own key inputs (sorghum and starter cultures). A technology transfer arrangement was done between academic institutions and Golden Goose, in respect of starter cultures. These collaborations improved the quality of the product as well as the Quality Management Systems, thus giving the enterprise a competitive advantage over the current Competitors.

Why does she think its important to create a legacy or inspire the next generations?

“Back then I was highly ambitious, highly abundant and highly motivated to becoming a very successful entrepreneur but was tragically interrupted by a near-death car accident involving the whole family in May 2009, bringing operations to an abrupt end. The family subsequently relocated to Welkom and in May 2010, I relaunched the enterprise, now with a diversified product range including “Motoho” (a soft porridge made from fermented sorghum) as the new flagship product,” she said.  

Then in January, 2012, she lost her husband and the business almost went down the drain, but did not allow adversity to get her down.

“The business thrived and ‘held on’ despite still recovering from the sudden and tragic loss and having to spend a lot of time taking care of my son.

“Far from holding a pity party, my journey is a triumph of overcoming adversity. The Golden Goose continues to grow from strength to strength against all odds, that is why it is important for me to build the empire and create a legacy by being an inspiration to the next generation that you never give up on your dreams just because you went through a lot in life. In fact, the message for them is that no matter how hard you may fall you must always stand up, dust yourself and continue with your journey,” said Maimane.

She says that as a Sorghum farmer, she strongly and confidently believes that Sorghum is still in demand and Sorghum Farming must be put on the national agenda. Sorghum is largely a subsistence crop on the African continent, but it is increasingly becoming the foundation for successful food and beverage industries.

“It is potentially crucial to household food security in Africa as it is drought and heat resistant, while having excellent nutritional qualities as well.

“Although sorghum is the third most important grain in South Africa, after maize and wheat, its production at around 200 000 tons per season is only 3% and 12% of maize and wheat respectively. The low quantities in both production and derivative products of sorghum, while its climatic resilience and nutritional value are undoubted, clearly demonstrate that its lack of popularity is only cosmetic, and that there is a huge untapped potential for alternative food and other products made out of sorghum,” explains Maimane.

To other women, she says the future of agriculture is female.

“Whatever your situation may be as a woman, never be embarrassed. Cover the same situation with filters and smiles. Make a difference in someone’s life, stay focused and execute consistently. You will conquer and the world will never be the same again. Let us lead our children by example. “Teach a girl child economic independence, so that she can have a partner, not a master. Teach a boy child to do housework so that in the future, he can have a partner, not a slave. Help them to find the wonder and marvel of the farming life by showing them the infinite pleasure in the hand that touches the soil. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes and car

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