Gugulethu Mahlangu is an aquaponics horticulturist who grows nutritious, chemical-free food with Finleaf Farms, a scalable biological farming brand. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (the growing of fish and other aquatic animals) and hydroponics (the growing of plants without soil).
It feels as though Mahlangu was born to be in agriculture — her grandmother and great-grandmother farmed to support their families.
Although she took no interest in it at first, eventually her strong heritage won out and she is now the proud owner of House Harvest, a 14-hectare farm that boasts 10 hydroponic tunnels and produces leafy green vegetables in Boksburg, Gauteng. She is also the aquaponics horticulturist at Finleaf Farms, an aquaponics farm situated along the border of Gauteng and North West province.
The beauty of nature — and the independence that being a farmer allows — is what drew Mahlangu to the agricultural industry. She describes it as a “career that you can build from the ground up”.
Inspired by how the work of her hands feeds the community and profits her business, she is living a life that brings her joy and fulfilment.
As a successful “agripreneur” and a woman thriving in a sector that is dominated by men, Mahlangu has a lot to be proud of. She says her proudest achievement to date is starting #farmspacesafrica on Twitter Spaces.
By using the digital platform to connect with farmers in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she is building an agricultural community across the continent.
“What is so powerful is that agriculture is a universal language and we all get to impart knowledge to each other,”
Coming from a line of women who worked the land, she wants more women and young people to get involved in agriculture, as she believes it can create employment and build a solid foundation for South Africa’s future.
Using her grandmother’s wisdom to keep herself disciplined, resilient and optimistic, she believes that “life constantly gives you lessons, learn from each and every one”.
When asked what being a woman brings to the agricultural space, Mahlangu notes how women look after their households and communities. “The way women think is holistic and collective; educating a woman is an investment into uplifting a community,” she says.
Mahlangu feels that she brings her experience and voice to the industry, as well as her drive to support other women with knowledge and skills, particularly when it comes to agritech and smart farming.
She wants women to know that they can have a career in agriculture and that there are opportunities including training and funding specifically allocated for black women.
Mahlangu describes the women of South Africa as “resilient, intelligent and nurturing”, and she wants them to be empowered with land and the skills to build a life of their own choosing.