Focus on women in agriculture: Thembi Xaba – Newly appointed CEO of the Deciduous Fruit Development Chamber
She’s a golfer, who is still learning scuba-diving and speaks eight languages. This mother of a baby boy is studying towards her Ph.D. in Business Administration with the University of Stellenbosch Business School. And as if that is not enough she was also recently appointed as the CEO of the Deciduous Fruit Development Chamber in Stellenbosch.
Meet Thembi Xaba who’s quiet sophistication cannot hide her bright intellect and steely resilience. Her goal in this new position is in line with the industry sector vision. The DFDC vision ‘ is to achieve a transformed fruit industry’. And the high-level strategic intent is “To double the deciduous fruit industry by 2050, and to transform the industry throughout the value chain.”
She jumps right in with her agricultural development expertise and says that in order to create market resilience, the industry needs to expand to other provinces. “This Western Cape drought has shown us what happens if you put all your eggs in one basket. I believe it is important to take deciduous fruit to other provinces, such as Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Free State where there is expansion potential.”
Her own journey into agriculture took many twists and turns. As one of four kids, she was raised on the East of Johannesburg, Kwa-Thema, Springs. At her grandmother’s house, she always had chickens in the back yard. This she says was possibly her first introduction to agriculture.
“I learned early on that there is subsistence value in agriculture. Even on small-scale. If you provide for yourself you know that when things get tough, you have meat, eggs, and vegetables. Being self-sustainable provides a poverty safety-net. It creates a feeling of achievement, of being able to look after yourself in adverse conditions.”
At school Thembi, was always in the Top Ten of her year group. There was this great expectation that she would go into medicine or engineering, but after matric, she headed down to Mangosuthu Technikon where the academic advisor asked her, “What about agriculture?”
“I asked myself, why not agriculture? I decided to sign up for the national diploma in agriculture and I guess everything started there.”
There is no doubt in her young mind that agriculture is the future. Not just in SA, but worldwide. “We need to encourage young people to take agriculture as a career choice seriously. We have a responsibility to direct people to the industry in order to make sure that there will be adequate succession planning, for the youth to take the baton. We have to make sure that we have enough skills and human capital to take us into the future. It is going to be up to the youth of today to sustain the environment, keep agriculture going and in that sense ensure food security and economic growth of our country.”
She has a special soft spot for the upliftment of young girls. “If we want to raise our nation we need to raise and mentor our girls. We have to encourage them to stay in school, stay focussed, work hard, achieve their goals and leverage opportunities for them. We have to teach them to empower themselves and realise their own economic freedom. If we can create strong, independent young South African women, things will change for the better.”