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Meet Ilse Trautmann The Plant Philosopher

Focus on women in agriculture:  

The Chief Director of Research & Technology Development at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture shares her story on how she landed her dream job.

By Carmé Naudé

Dr Ilse Trautmann was raised in the heart of the Boland in a farming family. She was exposed to agriculture from a young age and matriculated from La Rochelle High School in Paarl with her mind set on becoming a biology teacher. “Biology and agriculture were always in my blood,” she says.

When she enrolled for a B.Sc degree at Stellenbosch University she was planning on adding a teacher’s diploma to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. But, life had other plans. Ilse graduated her B.Sc degree with cum laude status and was subsequently offered an Honours project in Plant Physiology. Her dream of becoming a teacher was put aside. One qualification led to another and a Masters cum laude followed. She graduated at the age of 29 with a Ph.D. in plant physiology. Ilse was offered a post-doc position in Germany as well as a senior researcher’s position in table grapes at ARC Nietvoorbij, she decided to settle for a permanent position right here in South Africa.

It wasn’t long before Ilse moved from researcher to research manager. In 2003 she resigned as the manager of Disease Management at the ARC and was appointed as the WCDoA’s Deputy Director of Research. In 2007 she was appointed as Director of Research & Technology Development and in 2011 moved up to the Chief Director position, the position she currently holds. Her day-to-day responsibilities include the research portfolio of the Department with a staff component of 260 people, three research directorates, and seven research farms.

Her message to other women who are interested in agriculture would be to, “Join the food producing team of the world. It is the most rewarding job sector to be part of. It’s a community with a shared vision to produce quality food for everyone.”

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Dr Ilse Trautmann and colleague Jerry Aries during a field visit last year.

She also highlights that the value chain of agriculture is so diverse that anyone will undoubtedly find their dream job. “If you like a challenge and like to meet new people, look no further. If you really want to make a difference in life – make your footprint in agriculture!”

What have you learned about yourself through working in agriculture?

“Agriculture has taught me to persevere – to never say it cannot be done! But agriculture has also allowed me to grow as a person, to explore the unknown, to be innovative, to do things that are new and daring, but also to discover that the diverse people of agriculture are great human beings. The people in agricultures’ hearts are all the same. They all have a deep feeling for the land, the people, and the produce.”

For Ilse quality time with family and friends is very important. She says it is important to energize yourself from within and keep the momentum you have. “Once you are mentally fit, life has a lot to offer. Never give up hope, stop dreaming and never stop believing.” She accentuates the importance of self-evaluation, to keep on asking yourself if what you have done today that will make a difference.

What does the future hold?

She is excited about her retirement. “It is a new phase in life. A time worth exploring new interests, play golf, travel, read and many more.” Life will take its course and it is important to cherish each moment and work hard to achieve your dream. Make decisions and stand by them, with independence and without fear.



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