Breaking boundaries in agriculture 

by | Sep 2, 2020 | Article

Black-owned brands have made strides in achieving prominence in the South African wine industry. But as their influence increases, so do the challenges. 

The challenges of the wine industry are many and they will become more, says winemaker and owner of the first 100% black-owned winery. Carmen Stevens, the first black winemaker in South Africa to qualify from Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in 1995, recently participated in a women’s month webinar.

The webinar hosted by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), focused on the impact Covid-19 had on women in agriculture as well as a myriad of challenges and the opportunities it brought.

Reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, the wine industry has an upcoming harvest in January coupled with a wine surplus of 3 million litres. Additionally, the industry is faced with the challenge of providing wine to the restaurant and hospitality industry, rebuilding relationships, sourcing capital to finance the incoming harvest, as well as finding alternative ways to sell its offering.

“This is where the black and women participation comes in,” says Carmen.

Carmen Stevens, the first black winemaker in South Africa to qualify from Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute says “women are driving change in the wine industry.” 

Foster change 

According to Carmen, black brands are 67 brands strong while 57% of these brands are either women-owned or women-led. “These women are driving change in the wine industry.” However, less than 2% of agricultural wine land is black-owned land, she says. “Black and women-owned brands should be promoted to contribute to domestic market growth.”

For black-owned brands, it’s challenging to get market share in South Africa and Carmen believes this is because big retailers don’t stock black brands. “We struggle to gain acceptance in the industry. We need to get our brands in retail shops but there’s a limited opportunity.”

According to her, the government should assist black-owned and women-owned enterprises by giving them an eCommerce platform. “In unity, we are stronger. Even if it takes a year to build that reputation, we can re-evaluate.”

Wendy Petersen, operations manager of the South African Wine Industry Transformation Unit (TU), says during Covid-19, they recognised the importance of ecommerce. “Ecommerce forms that backbone where consumers can purchase directly from brand owners.”

The TU assists black women-owned businesses with financial assistance and support, market access programs as well as mentorship.

The organisation is a collective, inclusive, independent, and representative forum of relevant wine industry structures to facilitate transformation in the sector aligned to the NAMC guidelines. “During Covid-19, the TU assisted 15 black women-owned businesses for six months with emergency relief. This amounted to R1.35 million,” Wendy says. Additionally, 15 black-owned farms received emergency relief totalling R450 000 over the next three months.

Wendy says the organisation assisted struggling black-owned brands and provided more than R500 000 in support to farmworkers and farmworker communities in the past six months. The majority of those affected and assisted by TU were unemployed during the Covid-19 period and received no state support. “These communities were already mired in poverty, and with the unemployment caused by the pandemic, we decided to provide basic food security at the least.”

Enterprise development 

Additional enterprise development is necessary for the wine sector, comments Carmen. “Skills development is important but enterprise development to get market share should be a top priority.”

The industry is too focused on developing skills but not developing people for management level, says Carmen. She believes improved development in the industry, getting more people of colour in top structures, and land distribution to black-owned enterprises should be a priority.

During a Women in Agriculture webinar, hosted by the Western Cape Government, Wendy reiterated the importance of partnerships and collaboration to foster transformation. She says 60% of the TU’s budget is allocated towards enterprise development.

Furthermore, the TU has signed a service level agreement with Vinpro and the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development to provide technical and viticultural support. “We partnered with Vinpro so our brands can have access to this support.”

According to Carmen land infrastructure is an issue only government can address, to grow businesses, and create job opportunities for women in the wine industry. “Land redistribution and infrastructure are important for the future and we need to work on that.”

Similarly, Wendy agrees if a brand has a home, it will instil a sense of belonging. “It’s important for us to get that brand home established. There are key game-changers to drive transformation to where we want to be in 2025.”

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