Nandipha Mbizana grew up in rural Eastern Cape with six siblings, most of her older childhood years without parents. Economics was her favourite subject, but she was not aware that one could pursue a degree of career in the field.

“Growing up in that environment was quite difficult,” says Nandipha Mbizana about her childhood days in rural Eastern Cape. “We were not exposed to careers we can choose.”

The only careers that she knew of, was to become a teacher or a doctor. In high school she took biology, physics and economics as subjects. She did extremely well in her subjects so she knew she would be able to study medicine. Economics was her favourite subject, but she was not aware that one could pursue a degree of career in the field.

“I loved it so much, I was that student – the A-student,” she laughs. After high school she applied to study medicine at the Walter Sisulu University, because this was the only university she knew of. But despite her good grades, and that she applied to study both medicine and BSc (as a second option), administrative issues caused the university to lose her application multiple times and she was never enrolled.

“I remember thinking, ‘Should I stay at home now? Who is going to feed me?’” Mbizana says. She was determined to go to university, get a bursary to support her and be able to get a job after studies.

Nandipha Mbizana, lecturer of agribusiness and economics at Elsenberg Agricultural Training Institute. Photo: Supplied

Nandipha Mbizana, lecturer of agribusiness and economics at Elsenberg Agricultural Training Institute. Photo: Supplied

Her principal at her high school contacted the University of Fort Hare to see if they had any spaces in their courses open for this exceptionally smart young student. They enrolled Mbizana in the only space that was open that suited her subjects in high school: BSc Agricultural Economics.

She had no idea what it was, or what to expect. She didn’t even have a bursary yet. “I love taking risks. Whatever I want, I go for it.”

Eventually she found somebody to sponsor her because she had such good grades, and she went to pass all of her subjects with distinctions. She was the top student in her 2nd year of studies.

Brave enough to tackle her Master’s

At the end of her 4 year degree, she was stuck again when thinking about the future, “What’s next?” she asked. “I knew I had to get a job to support myself, or study further.”

Despite her outstanding grades, she did not receive any of the jobs or internships that she applied for. So she continued studying her masters at the University of Fort Hair in Agricultural Economics. While she was busy with this, she lectured Agricultural Business and Farm Management subjects at the King Hintsa TVET College.

“This was very daunting,” she reflects. “I taught people much older than myself, but I wanted the job despite how scared I was.”

Nandipha Mbizana studied at the University of Fort Hare.

Nandipha Mbizana initially studied at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape.

Due to this she knew that she had to be very knowledgeable on her subjects if she wanted to feel confident enough to teach them. “During that time I learned how to teach those subjects, but I also learned how to manage my class, and how to manage people.”

Later on she realised how critical these skills were in the field of Agricultural business and economics. “Learning how to build relationships with students applied to management, economics and agricultural business when building relationships with stakeholders.”

Working with different sectors and different stakeholders is very important in agricultural economics. “Agricultural business management and economics is not just about managing a business and finances, it’s about managing people, how they behave and consumer behaviour impacts your decision making.”

After her Master’s studies she continued teaching at King Hintsa for 7 years. She eventually moved to the Western Cape where there are many more opportunities for Agricultural Economists.

“I wanted a challenge, a new thing after working in the same place for 7 years,” she says.

Lecturer at Elsenburg college

“I applied to Elsenberg Agricultural Training Institute,” Mbizana says. She currently works at Elsenberg, teaching agribusiness and economics. “It was a big, scary change.”

Moving from the Eastern Cape’s challenges of teaching mostly to older students, the Western Cape teaching environment held a different challenge: “Suddenly, all my students were white,” Mbizana says. “They also kept telling me that my subjects are too difficult, and that they only want to go into production, so why do they need to know all this economics stuff?”

But Mbizana is not one to shy away from a challenge; she managed to convince her students that the production aspect of farming still needs, and benefits from, knowledge of agricultural business and economics. Pretty soon she had gotten her passing rate up to 100% for her subjects.

“The field of economics has so many different opportunities,” says Mbizana. “But I enjoy teaching the subject to students.”

“You can become a lecturer, an academic, statistician, econometrician (an individual who uses statistics and mathematics to study, model, and predict economic principles and outcomes), macro or micro economist or a policy maker,” she explains. “One day I’d like to explore more of the economics side of things.”

If you want to become an agricultural economist, Mbizana encourages you to follow the dream if you love statistics, want to develop models, and want to work in an exciting and constantly changing field.