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Mohair Could Be Nowhere

Thousands of lives are bound up with the Karoo. Many ambitious entrepreneurs make up the biggest mohair industry in the world and fear fracking.

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The Herold father-son duo are the biggest mohair farmers in Graaff-Reinet, in the Eastern Cape; and the second biggest in the country. South Africa has 900 mohair farmers who make up 54% of the world’s production. The Herolds used innovative farming techniques, foresight and discipline to expand their land from 7,000 to 16,000ha. They lease another 6,000ha.

Richard Herold, aged 30, has his sights set on becoming the world’s number one mohair farmer; if hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, doesn’t put him out of business first.

“All our drinking water comes from underground, if it is contaminated our animals won’t have water to drink, that’ll be the end of small-stock farming. Water is the key,” says Herold.

Richard Herold

“Fracking would probably kill the mohair industry, because the area which is earmarked, like Jansenville and Beaufort West, is the main area of mohair production,” says Justin Coetzee of the South African Mohair growers association.

Like many Karoo farmers, they support attorney Derek Light who is battling it out against international energy companies wanting to pursue hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

“The traffic and damage to the roads [is another concern], it would lead to an increase of stock theft and damage to property. A lot of the things are unknown, it might even be a positive, it might create a lot of jobs and incomes for people, but you don’t know. The possibility, if you look at what happened in America, I wouldn’t want that to happen here,” says Herold.

He believes fracking would change the way of life in the Karoo: “The big part of the attraction and value that we place on it, is the isolation. If you were to drive past drilling rigs it wouldn’t feel like you were in the Karoo,” he says.

“We have a farm in western Australia—where we keep feral goats for meat production—in a mining area. I’ve seen the impact where farming and mining mix and well… they don’t mix, it changes the dynamics completely,” he says.

While Herold’s great-grandfather bought the land in 1922; it was his grandfather who bought the animals. Seventy per cent were sheep and the rest goats. David Herold, his father, turned it into a mohair farm.

“We sold all our sheep two years ago and we’re slowly replacing them with goats,” says Herold. They now have 95% goats and some cattle. While other mohair farmers have a weaning rate of around 75%—they rear 75 kids off of 100 reproducing ewes—he has a 100% weaning rate. “That’s not to say we’re producing 100 from 100, we do have a loss of 10% but we also have twins; one makes up for the other,” he says smiling.

When he’s not fighting off invading jackals and lynxes, from nearby game reserves, or attending meetings held by gas companies; he’s doing the day-to-day things to improve the quality of his mohair to get the best price.

“With our kid hair, we’re generally in the top three to five [sellers] in South Africa. But we can certainly improve on that. It’s nice to know that there is still a lot to be done to prepare our clip better. Our fiber was contaminated with grass seed last year, that’s something you can manage but you sometimes have to put the animals’ nutrition ahead of its fiber. Sometimes you have to make the decision to put them on the best food regardless of what happens to their hair,” says Herold.

“We had the highest ever adult mohair price per kilogram two seasons ago, which lasted for one week and then someone else got it. But that was a bin, so it was a compilation of other people’s mohair, so it wasn’t just one producer,” he says proudly.

While he is a registered stud breeder, he doesn’t sell them; he keeps the best genetic material for his farm.  He also puts the kids into a high-grazing, fenced off pen.

“If they grow up well and have a good foundation it gives them a head-start for the rest of their lives. They’re like children. It’s a good investment now for the future,” says Harold.

He speaks with great admiration when explaining his father’s innovative farming practices. Through his lateral thinking and decades of experience, he has successfully reduced the labor-intesity of ‘shedding’ goats after the goats have been shorn. While other farmers usually put their sheds near trees or shrubs which are natural forms of shelter and might decide not to shed them on certain nights on that account; David decided to strategically place them in open veld.

“Psychologically you know you have to shed them because there’s no other option. It usually takes quite a lot of effort and manpower, but in this way you’re forcing yourself to be disciplined because it’s open; one man can even do it, whereas others might require a few men to do so. Also they’re quite intelligent, you can train them. We’ll shear them every night regardless, so they’ll go automatically. It’s a habit you train into them, and the nanny goats will monitor the kids,” says Herold.

Herold has an eye for opportunity; he has his finger in many pies. He breeds 250 tuli cattle for the meat market and had up to 3,000 ostriches, until recently, because they do so well in times of drought and they’re versatile: you can farm them for their meat, feathers and eggs.

Imagine what his grandfather would say were he to find out that they currently have around 10,000 angora goats; by far the most for miles around. They’ll do anything but boast about it though, for they are humble people, even though, Herold has high ambitions: “I want to be the biggest mohair farmer in the world in the next few years.”

The flock numbers fluctuate depending on the season and the composition of the animals.

“You have to take a long-term view. Don’t stock your farm to the full potential as it’s an asset you have to look after, without over-grazing it,” says Herold.

The land can hold anything up to 14,000; on average he has between 8,000 to 10,000 goats, he says.

Herold takes a very reasoned approach to farming, in the drought of 2009-2010 he had to de-stock by 10% to guarantee food for the remaining animals for the following year. One hundred hectares of the land is used for irrigation.

That’s not to say that farming doesn’t come with its fair share of political challenges too.

“I’d say our biggest concerns in farming are political: what our place is going to be priority-wise for the government. The ‘green papers’ they are putting forth look to limit the amount of land that individuals can own. Limiting anything in business is not conducive to investment and good business, it forces people to start looking elsewhere,” he says.

According to Herold, government appointed land-valuers don’t necessary understand or have the knowledge of the area.

“Every business is a long-term investment, it makes one think twice before re-investing and expanding in [one’s] business… I might invest in this property and grow it and then in 10 years a government valuer might say ‘no, it’s not worth this, it’s worth that’,” he says.

The monthly running costs of his farm are R100,000 ($12,000) and returns vary.

“We were getting a better price for our mohair five years ago then we are now. The cost of production has gone up. The game [reserve] industry has pushed up the price of land beyond what the farming value has been, so it’s more difficult to buy and expand your business now than what it was 20 years ago,” he says. He doesn’t find it surprising that many farmers are turning elsewhere to ecotourism and ‘bed and breakfasts’.

Between his and his father’s farms they employ 20 permanent staff, the average staff member has been with them for 10 years. David serves on the mohair trust and is the chairmen of the black economic empowerment development trust within the angora industry.

“We have incentive schemes in place and training courses in fencing, mohair grading and tractor driving. That is the key to small-stock farming: having good, reliable people working for you. You can’t pay them minimum wage, day in day out, and expect them to go the extra mile for you. Sometimes we can’t close shop on a Friday and open up again and start again on a Monday,” Herold says.

They fear if fracking happens, they may have to close shop on a Friday and may not be able to open again on a Monday.

Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work

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Mother-daughter cofounders Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor launched Medley to help young professionals gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work. COURTESY OF MEDLEY

Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.

That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them. 

“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression. 

That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.

Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.

Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.

“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.

In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.

Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”

To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership. 

With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.

“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, Leadership

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