FEEL GOOD | Meet the 24-year-old woman who started out selling fish and chips on a street corner, now she co-owns two farms
Njabulo Mbokane from Ermelo, Mpumalanga decided to venture into agriculture after passing her matric in 2013 at Carolina Academic school.
Before her farming projects, she sold russians, fish and chips at a street corner that was near schools. She made around R400 a day but that was not fulfilling for her, hence she ventured into agriculture.
Her interest in agriculture began when a friend told her he was going to study agriculture the following year at university. “I didn't understand why anyone would want to study agriculture but I was intrigued and grew curious about the idea,” she says.
She didn't want to study further but wanted a farm of her own. The best way she knew how to achieve her dream was to start immediately and not wait until she had a degree or qualification.
It was not easy for her to get the land for her initial farming project and she sought out any kind of 'training' she could get. "I would go to farms, even if I didn’t even know what they were busy doing there. I was very curious and most of the time I would hitch-hike, which is very dangerous for a young female,” she explains.
Images supplied by Njabulo Mbokane.
Later on, Njabulo approached a woman named Winnie Nkabinde, who had 70 hectares of unused land available and the young gardener rented and utilised 2 hectares for planting soya beans.
With little knowledge, her first project failed.
"I did not harvest on time and knew nothing about the market. All my beans were dying, and cattle would come around and graze on them,” she says.
She didn't give up and in 2017 she was fortunate enough to land a learnership to study at Peritum Agri Institute which was funded by agriculture company, Afgri.
She then partnered with a commercial farmer, Mr. Ntuli, who is one of her greatest mentors. “He said we should start small with just 15 hectares,” Njabulo explains. So, they continued the project at the Nkabinde farm, and today, they utilise the entire 70 hectares for maize farming.
The project went so well that Njabulo decided to acquire more land where she could operate a second farm.
“I am a risk-taker. In 2018, I took the biggest risk when I rented another 200-hectare farm in Ermelo which was closer to where I live and is bigger. It only made sense that way,” she says.
Njabulo employs 15 people and is hoping to grow her farms. She rents the land for R500 per hectare and makes approximately 6 tons of maize per hectare. Running a farm can be a little bit expensive, it is not for the faint-hearted, she says.
"When I first started there were a lot of people who kept questioning my choices, but deep down I knew what she wanted and how I was going to get it," she says.
One of the things that helped her most in understanding farming, especially maize farming, was constantly seeking information, attending workshops, and farmers' days.
Njabulo has since won the SAB Young Emerging Farmer of the Year Award for 2019 and one of the requirements of joining the program was that entrants had to produce yellow maize, which she does.