The seventh winner of Landbouweekblad and Sanlam's coveted Landbouvroue-entrepreneur competition is Bospoort-beskuit's Christa van der Merwe from Postmasburg in the Northern Cape, winning R65,000 for her farm baked rusks.
Her entrepreneurial spirit was stirred when she and husband Johan bought their farm Bospoort on credit almost 20 years ago. Her dad provided them with financing for livestock. Initially they produced vegetables, which were sold in town, which Christa augmented with a goat-farming operation.
They became involved in the state's 'Work for Water' projects, but finances remained tight. They were almost bankrupted in 1999 when they lost an olive orchard to black frost, which they had financed with the proceeds from the 'Work for Water' projects.
It was at this time that she decided to become an agent for a rusk producer. Sales grew exponentially in only three months, but her business epiphany occurred one night when their only car broke down, followed shortly by a phone call from her dad that an industrial oven was for sale at a reasonable price in Cape Town. She took the plunge and decided to start baking her own rusks. Burnt offerings to success
However, it wasn't all plain sailing. Her oven used 50 kilovolt-ampere while the farm could only provide 25 kilovolt-ampere. After three weeks of trial-and-error, experimenting and constant recalculations, she made her first large batch of rusks - a full 40 kg.
"When I took the tray out of the oven, half the rusks were raw, the other half burnt but there was no use crying over spilled milk. I simply had to buy more ingredients - with money I didn't have - and make it work," she remembers.
Today she produces an average of 25 tons of rusks per month and transports them 15,000 km to be sold in 300 shops, including Pick n Pay, Checkers, Spar and Fruit & Veg.
Since Bospoort is rather isolated, accommodation is provided on-farm for the 25 full-time workers and their families.
"Many people think success is the result of luck. The truth is that success is the result of planning, and when good preparation, hard work and opportunities meet. Success, therefore, is not a moment, but a process.
"With all the doom and gloom about agriculture in the media, it is wonderful that this competition is putting the spotlight on uplifting success stories of female entrepreneurs. There is so much talent among rural women. This competition tells their stories and inspires them to greater heights."High quality of entrants
The judges were unanimous about the high quality of this year's entrants. "The five finalists provide employment to people who most probably would have been without jobs. In effect, they all make a huge contribution to job creation in rural areas, as between the five finalists, they employ 250 people.
"Christa van der Merwe is a woman who in twelve years, on an isolated farm in the Kalahari, managed to progress from a burnt batch of rusks to a multimillion rand operation. Despite various challenges, financially and logistically, she supplies about 25 tons of dry rusks to more than 300 shops. She's not just an exceptional entrepreneur who has taken calculated risks, but she also supplies jobs to 25 full-time workers. She has established herself as a force to be reckoned with in a traditional market with a product that is already widely available."Other finalists
The other finalists in this year's competition were Anja Fourie from Timeless Tomatoes nearby Bethulie, Celesté Leonard from Klipkraal-guesthouse near Heidelberg in Gauteng, Freda Schoeman from Werk op Werf near De Rust in the Little Karoo and Madelé Ferreira of Mooihoek-farm near Hankey in the Eastern Cape. Each finalist goes home with R10,000 and an annual subscription to Landbouweekblad.
Landbouweekblad and Sanlam's Female Entrepreneur competition was born out of a desire to recognise rural women who despite severely challenging circumstances, often manage to start businesses. These enterprises are often started with the view to augment the farm's income. The competition aims to provide all the finalists with some publicity and to recognise the invaluable role they play in their various communities and in agriculture as a whole.
The competition will continue in 2013 and entries will be accepted between 29 March and 25 October 2013.