When Katlego Ngwane (33) first became involved in agricultural law, she provided consulting services at the behest of a family friend. Soon, however, she spent more time in Cape Town working with farmers than she did in her residential city, Johannesburg.
“At the beginning, it was meant to just be a sort of consultative situation and I had no intention of moving to the Western Cape. I was just literally helping out and doing a few consults here and there. It got more and more busy and I started feeling like I was spending more time down here than at home in Johannesburg. It just sort of happened.”
Now, four years later, Ngwane runs her legal consulting firm called Katika Consult from Paarl in the Western Cape. Her initial clients were almost exclusively wine farmers, but that changed soon after the Covid-19 pandemic started.
“Lockdown, for me, for the business, was such a learning curve. It taught me some lessons,” she says. Her first lesson was that her business needed a more diverse set of farmers than wine farmers to survive. “Guess what happened during lockdown? All of [the wine farms] were shut down, which means effectively, my business is shut down because I have a clientele of just wine farmers.”
To reach new clients, Ngwane thought out of the box. She started a podcast. “And it worked. It opened KZN for me. It also opened up Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.”
We asked Ngwane to give us some insight into the life of an agricultural lawyer.
Katlego, can you summarise for us what it is that you do?
“I would say that I am responsible for ensuring that the person farming continues farming and works productively without red tape, compliance issues, or legal issues. I will describe myself as the person that makes sure the farmer does what they do best and I do the rest.”
So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?
I go on farm visits to see what [farmers] actually do and to get a good idea of the business. No one farm is the same, as you can imagine, so one cannot be general about advice and what to say. If I’m not on the farm, I’m in the office. Drafting [documents], or talking to government departments as well.
A lot of the work I have has got to do with compliance and regulation, and working with farmers, I need to have good relationships with the department of agriculture, department of water, department of the environment, etc. So, basically, I’m dealing with those stakeholders during the day. And then my normal stuff of drafting and making calls and sending emails, giving opinions.
I see [my work] in three parts: admin, managing relationships with my clients, and managing my relationship with government.
What qualification do you need for this career?
[You] would obviously have to have a [law degree to be an agricultural lawyer] and it’s always good to have a business degree or post graduate [qualification] to understand business. The thing is, when you are talking to the farmers, you are not talking to them from a theoretical point of view. You have to understand how business works and how their businesses are structured and all of that.
So, an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) is great to have but it’s also a general degree. I did a post graduate qualification in business [in managing principles] that helped. Because I can fully understand not just the law part of it in terms of reading legislation and understanding it, but I can also understand their businesses and the future of what they want to do, so I can advise them properly.
What kind of characteristics do you think an agricultural lawyer needs to have?
Being a people’s person. You have to gain their trust and be able to talk. [You have to] be creative in terms of solutions. In law there is a [saying] – there are two types of lawyers, rainmakers and farmers. Farmers are the guys that sit in the office. They are really great with admin, they write good contracts, but they can’t talk. You never send them to clients. Then you get rainmakers that can talk, and are dynamic and creative, and come up with solutions.
In this type of job, you cannot be a farmer. You have to be a rainmaker.