When the Covid-19 pandemic seized the country in 2020, it seemed that staying employed became a luxury overnight as people rapidly lost their jobs. Amid this uncertainty, traders in the informal market were forced to stay home, unable to work in the first days of the initial 21-day lockdown.
By the time street vendors were allowed to trade again – on condition that they obtained a permit from their municipalities – the damage had been done. For Nomfundo Siyothula, a former vetkoek seller from Thembisa in Gauteng, it all seemed over.
She could not go back to her vetkoek business due to financial and lockdown constraints, and finding another job was impossible. Since she needed to make another plan to generate an income, she decided to move back home.
From street vendor to farmer
“I decided to move back home to Qumbu, a village in the O.R. Tambo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape, in January this year and started farming,” Siyothula remembers.
“I was taught how to plant cabbages by Mzimasi Jalisa, who is the director of Jay Jay Farming, a crop enterprise located in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. He is also currently my mentor,” she says.
Once Siyothula felt confident enough to start farming on her own, she bought R4 000’s worth of seedlings with money she had saved while living with her husband. She started planting cabbage in February on a two-hectare communal plot in her village.
In April she planted another 4 000 cabbage seedlings.
“In June I reaped my first ever harvest and started supplying SPAR, street vendors and local schools in my community,” she beams. Getting her produce into the local SPAR was a major breakthrough for the brand-new farmer and proud owner of Mehlomakhulu Farming.
“I took three heads of my cabbage to them and they were impressed with my cabbage. They asked me to become their full-time supplier and we have been in business since.”
Yothula says her first ever harvest yielded 3500 cabbages and she made R28500.
The former vendor expects to reap her second harvest in September this year.
“I was supposed to have harvested in July already but due to the cold weather my harvest season was delayed,” she says.
As much as her journey thus far may sound like smooth sailing, she says that starting a farming business with no farming background was difficult for her.
She explains that she had water issues because she didn’t have an irrigation system and she was forced to get someone to install a borehole system.
“That cost me a lot of money. I also had to hire a permanent worker to irrigate my crops for me because my irrigation system is not fully functional.”
Siyothula says, however, that she is building from strength to strength and hopes that her second harvest will garner her much success.
Be bold and proud!
“I am looking forward to my second harvest because I still have challenges on my farm that I need to attend to. The challenges I have now is to finish installing an irrigation system on the rest of my farm because right now I don’t have enough money to do that.”
She shares that another goal of hers is to expand her farm and venture into other crops and livestock farming.
“I want to be a commercial farmer one day, but first I want to get all my challenges in order on my land so that I can be strong enough to grow even better and bigger.”
Siyothula’s advice to women who want to venture into farming is to be bold and proud of their hustle.
“They must not be ashamed about their hustle. They are supposed to love what they are doing and do it with love. When they do that, they will get their success.”