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How This South-African Agripreneur Who Started A Two-scale Farming Business Survived Odds Of Shutting Down

South-African Agriculture entrepreneur, Ncumisa Mkabile has successfully established a two small-scale farming business, after a forced close down of her catering business during the covid-19 pandemic; she shares story of business success amidst all odds.

When the COVID-19 lockdown forced Ncumisa Mkabile to shut down her catering business, she put her entrepreneurial spirit to the test by starting mixed farming businesses on a piece of land in Khayelitsha. Ncumisa Mkabile from Khayelitsha launched a mixed farming operation during the national COVID- 19 lockdown after having to close her catering business.

“When one door closes, another one opens,” says Ncumisa Mkabile of Khayelitsha, Cape Town, who started not one, but two new enterprises after being forced to close her catering business in March last year.

“Unfortunately, I had to close due to limited trade brought about by the COVID-19 lockdown regulations. The company was my only source of income, so I had to make plans to find an alternative source of income.”

Mkabile started looking around for opportunities and realised there was a market for chicken in her community.

“I used money from my savings and started selling [slaughtered] chickens, doing door-to-door deliveries. I soon realised that there was also a high demand for live chickens in the local community, so I decided to raise chickens to supply people who wanted to start their own businesses. At the time, though, I continued with my door-to-door deliveries. That’s how Mamcube Homegrown Chickens started,” she explains.

Mkabile has a chicken house on a 90m x 34m plot in Khayelitsha. She currently rents the property, but is in the process of buying the land.

“I usually stock up with about 1 000 off-layers and they get sold out within a week. Unfortunately, there are no local suppliers, so once a week I take a three-hour drive to buy my chickens. In future, I plan to buy day-old chicks, grow them and sell them as fully grown chickens.”

Spinach production
In addition to her chicken enterprise, Mkabile has started planting spinach on the plot.

“My initial plan was to plant green peppers in September. However, at that stage it was still winter in the Western Cape and I didn’t want to wait until spring.”

She carried out considerable online research on crops suitable for planting in winter, as well as market research in her community, and finally settled on spinach.

“I chose it because it’s easy to maintain and can survive almost any weather conditions. I also saw a strong demand for spinach in the community, as people struggled to find it,” she says.

The soil on the plot is very sandy and contains few nutrients.

“Before cultivating the land, I took soil samples to Bemlab, which advised me on what I could plant and which fertiliser I should use to achieve the best crop.”

After obtaining the result, she mixed locally sourced cow manure into the soil, transforming the barren land. She bought her first spinach seedlings from Western Cape Seedlings and planted them on 20 May 2020.

“I prefer seedlings to seed. With seed, you have to wait for it to germinate and start to grow, which might take a month or more. Seedlings are ready to produce.”

Mkabile adds that she would like to start propagating her own seed in order to reduce her input costs.

In addition to the manure, she uses LAN (28) to provide nitrogen to the crop and prevent the leaves from turning yellow.

“We applied it two weeks after planting the seedlings, and again two weeks later. A week before harvesting, we applied 1:0:1 [NPK].”

Product Sales
Two months after planting her first seedlings, Mkabile harvested 1 000 bunches of spinach. She advertised the produce on Facebook, and by 1pm on the same day, she had sold all her stock.

Since then, she has secured supplier contracts with two Spar outlets in Khayelitsha, whom she supplies on a weekly basis.

Her consignment to one of the stores is 1 500 bunches a week. Her clients also include local street vendors. She hires a trailer to deliver the spinach to her clients.

Mkabile harvests her spinach every second week. This gives them time to regenerate and she can then carry out a second cut.

On-farm challenges
Mkabile admits that starting her operation has had its challenges. She has no irrigation system, so uses watering cans to irrigate her crops, which is highly labour-intensive.
In addition, production is limited by the size of her land.

“I can supply only about 2% of the people who actually want spinach because I don’t have enough land to produce as much as I’d like to,” she says.

Her main concern, however, is land invasions, and squatters who build shacks.

“I’m quite worried because potential investors wouldn’t want to invest in an area plagued by land invaders. It’s also a struggle for us to get things to the farm because of all the shacks that block the way.”

Mkabile’s dream is to become a commercial farmer.

“I don’t want to limit myself to farming only spinach. I’d like to produce various types of fresh fruit and vegetables and supply them all over South Africa.”

In September, she planted 20 000 seedlings of green pepper. “I’m trying something new so that I can diversify my operation.”

Creating jobs is also something that Mkabile is passionate about. She currently employs seven previously unemployed people.

“When I expand my operation, I’d also like to create more job opportunities for the people in my community,” she says.

She is passionate about transforming the agriculture sector from being male-dominated to offering women as many opportunities in the industry as their male counterparts.

“I believe women can achieve whatever they would like to, and that they can make a living out of farming.”

Advice to beginners
She advises young people who would like to farm to start small and gradually grow from there.

“Don’t wait for government to fund you. Use the little you have to the best of your ability. You don’t need a huge piece of land to start farming; you can start in your backyard. Use the little land you have and grow it into a bigger vision.”

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