By Elizabeth Niven
What started as a component of a DEKALB-brand introduction in South Africa has emerged as a model program to strengthen customer relationships by engaging one of the most important and influential partners in the farm family: the wife.
In South Africa, most of the commercial farmers are men, but farming is a family business and most women play an integral role in the business. Many times, wives reconcile the books, serve as the accountant and bookkeeper and order the supplies, including seeds.
“We recognize the important role the wives play in decision-making and farming activities in general,” said Magda Du Toit, corporate communication manager for Monsanto, Africa. “By engaging the wives of our farm customers, we strengthen customer relationships and increase the value that we bring to the total business on the farm.”
Currently, Monsanto South Africa hosts five Women’s Days each year for farmer wives to discuss relevant agricultural issues, product offerings, biotechnology and Monsanto’s sustainable agriculture initiative.
The Women’s Days also address global topics, like grain prices and environmental issues; and more local concerns, like land restitution, land reform and water availability; and issues in the home, including keeping the children involved in agriculture and emotional and personal growth topics.
Karin Dreyer and her husband Gerhard farm about 6,500 hectares (16,250 acres) of corn, sunflower, ground nut and pastures in the Vryburg district, west of Johannesburg in North West Province of South Africa. She said, “The Monsanto Women’s Day is one of my personal highlights each year. I appreciate this opportunity to learn more about our farm and South Africa in relationship to world agriculture, growing food needs and emerging technologies.”
Attendance in the Women’s Day has increased from 38 participants in 2006 to more than 400 women in 2011. Each year a number of women request invitations for their daughters, daughters-in-law and neighbors, who have not been invited previously or do not currently buy from Monsanto.
“Our plan is to reach 500 women through this program annually,” said Du Toit. “We support our sales force and supplement their efforts by contacting wives through this network. The women’s day outreach has great potential to further increase sales and influence farm decisions while increasing awareness, understanding and acceptance of biotechnology and Monsanto’s sustainability programs.”
While some women also participate in field days with their husbands, the Women’s Days are more directed to the social aspects of gathering with other women. “Farm life can be isolating and we wanted women to have an opportunity to have fun, relax and enjoy the day,” said Du Toit.
“We also give them a forum to ask questions about our products and become familiar with some of the new products, advances and technologies in an environment where they feel free to discuss and learn with their peers. When they get back to the farm, they are more empowered to influence purchasing decisions,” said Du Toit.
Sales increased at farms by an average of 144 bags of seed when women from that farm participated in a Women’s Day. “There is a definite correlation between participation and sales,” said Du Toit.
Overall, DEKALB market share in South Africa grew from 37 percent in 2005 to 62 percent at the end of December 2011.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to meet with a client or with a client’s family, we can extend our personal relationship. This builds trust, loyalty and ultimately means that our customer feels more connected so that when they do have questions or concerns, they have a direct line to get answers,” said Kobus Lindeque, area lead in Monsanto Africa.
Once Women’s Day participants return home, they return a survey, which serves as a planning tool for the next women’s day event and measures customer perceptions on farming practices, issues and biotechnology. With these responses, Monsanto can continue to develop productive strategies, and better outreach and programs with their customers and the farming community in mind.