The Olifants River Valley runs through the West Coast of South Africa and is internationally known for its wine producers and produces 16% of the total South African wine crop. It’s here where the Avenant family has been producing wine grapes for 3 generations. In 2012, Charmaine Avenant and her husband decided to diversify their business by planting olive trees – this is how Namaqua Olives and Olive Oil came into existence.
1. What brought you to where you are today – a woman in agriculture?
A husband in agriculture. Although both my husband and I came from agricultural backgrounds in the Olifantsriver, we knew nothing about olives or growing olive trees. After lots of research my husband eventually decided that olive trees were the way to go. So, in 2016, while I was working as a dietician and in the process of raising our children, we harvested our first batch of olives – and just like that, I became part of the whole process.
2. Are there unique challenges as a woman in the olive growing and olive oil making business?
If there are, then I’m not aware of any. I’m a youngster in the industry and still have a lot to learn.
3. What are the hard skills you need to make it work?
I think in any type of agriculture, it starts from the ground level. You need to have knowledge about your crop / product / plant and what it needs to thrive to give you the best product at the end. You also require the proper experience, and if you don’t have any, you must be willing to learn from people who are experts in the field. They can provide you with a great deal of information. You also need to do research, be willing to learn from others (continuous learning) and ask the right questions.
I have no training in business, marketing, or management, so everything I know, I have learned from others.
4. What are the soft skills you need to make it work?
Your personality plays an integral part in making something work. You must be ambitious and want to succeed. Planning, good time management and being organized are crucial. Teamwork, good communication and problem-solving skills all play a fundamental role. The ones I lack, my husband makes up for, so in that way, we balance each other out.
Another soft skill to master is to accept that you don’t know everything.
5. What has been a highlight in your career in the olive industry thus far?
Small things really. We have had friends messaging us while on vacation far from here, only to see our product on a shelf or in a restaurant somewhere. So just realizing that our hard work has paid off is very rewarding.
6. Why do you love what you do?
I love seeing things grow, whether it is an olive tree or my business. To realize where you have started and how far you have come just gives you more drive to take things up a level. I’m also doing this for my children and generations to come – I want to leave something for them to be proud of.
7. What does the future hold – for you, your business, and the country?
I hope to receive more business, especially abroad. Other countries know that South Africa produces very high-quality olive oil, so we should continue to build on that.
8. Do you have a funny story about your time in the olive business?
Not specifically in the olive business, but just in working alongside my husband in the same office every day. He will tell you that I will say I will resign every second week, but then his reply is always the same. “You are the boss, you cannot resign!”
We have the same interests, but different personalities, so tempers can sometimes run full throttle.
9. What does your support structure look like?
I have my team which consist of three guys. They can do basically everything, except for selling the product, which is my job. I give them freedom to be innovative and take charge. And then there is my husband, we are a great team. We both know that we cannot make this business a success without each other.