Agricultural entrepreneur Abueng Leepile is the founder and director of Bokamoso Abu Farms in North West province. This flourishing agribusiness contributes to one of the country’s most vital food production value chains — growing various vegetables, including beetroot, butternut, peppers, chillies and onions.
For Leepile, the driving force behind her business is to provide healthy and delicious vegetables to the public.
Leepile says that she always had a soft spot for farming, but it was the realisation that South Africa was facing a food shortage that really stoked her fire.
Through her own research, she discovered that the average age of a South African farmer is 62. “[This meant] that within the next 20 years, more than half of all the farmers in South Africa would be too old to work, retired or deceased,” she says. This understanding inspired her to follow her dream of becoming a farmer and providing food to people within South Africa and beyond its borders.
Bokamoso Abu Farms has three permanent employees and on weekends and holidays, Leepile’s siblings and cousins pitch in to help on the farm.
“They are the most supportive people in my life and I’ve never been more grateful for anything. They are simply the best,” she says.
Leepile adds that one of her proudest achievements is being named one of the 100 South African Shining Stars for 2020 by Inside Education. Her journey to this point was not plain sailing, though.
As a woman entrepreneur in farming, she faced many challenges working in an industry that is dominated by men and is thus highly male-oriented.
“Resilience, determination and the help from my family make it easier day by day,” says Leepile.
One of the most valuable lessons she learnt was when she started operating the business.
“I didn’t have funding and hoped that I would get something, but it did not happen,” she says. However, through networking and idea exchanges, she took her mentor’s advice to start her small business with what she had instead of waiting for funding. “Start small, develop and grow — I used her advice and never looked back,” says Leepile.
If she could change one thing in South Africa today, Leepile says that it would be to see more women joining the workforce and having a seat at the table where high-level decisions are made.
“More women in agriculture will pave the way for a better future. It is our responsibility to empower the next generation of women to take on the challenges of the world’s growing food needs,”
Leepile wants to be known as someone who gave more than she took. “With hard work, discipline and consistency, young women — especially in rural parts of Africa — can build true wealth and systems to develop their society without having to depend on men for their livelihoods,” she says.
Her favourite quote is by former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “He who feeds you controls you.” Leepile believes that if we can feed ourselves, we’ll have control of our future and our dignity will remain intact.