Before Covid-19, Thembakazi Sikundla‘s chicken business was booming. However, during lockdown, they became ill and died. She had to pick up the pieces and start from scratch, but she never gave up. Sikundla decided to make a fresh start in March 2022, and once again, she’s back on top.
Sikundla, from Esigangala village in Centane in the Eastern Cape, says while others were finding new things to do during the lockdown, she was dealing with the loss of her business.
La-Tesh Pty Ltd was started with her desire to offer nutritious, fresh foods to her community.
She founded her business after completing her studies in agricultural economics at the University of Fort Hare in 2017. She graduated with honours and is now working on her Master’s degree.
Sikundla says that she was aware before beginning that difficulties may arise at any time or day. She, however, did not anticipate that her business would fail precisely at a time when food was in high demand.
“I was taught farming methods. It begins there; if you have agricultural qualifications like me and still struggle to get work, what more can you do?”
Facing the fire
Sikundla cultivates two gardens and part of the 28 hectares of family property in Esigangala, Centane, which her father gave to her. Crop rotation has been particularly useful for her business.
“I began with spring onions, carrots, cabbage, spinach, and peppers.”
Today, La-Tesh Pty Ltd. also farms with livestock and owns 15 piglets and 89 poultry. On her larger farm, she now grows maize, and when she rotates, she grows potatoes.
She has built a market in the town of Centane at the Boxer Superstore, the Spar Supermarket, and other informal stores and stalls.
“With the remainder of the produce, I temporarily hire young people from my community, often school dropouts, to establish and run vegetable stands. I know how it feels to have no options.”
There are challenges that arise from running her farm.
Sikundla says the necessity for machinery in the fields in order to operate efficiently makes it extremely difficult for her to grow. She adds that since essential tools like those for weeding, spraying, and other tasks are so costly that she’s forced to rely on physical labour to run her business.
The same applies to sustaining the market, and according to her, it’s difficult to remain constant when you don’t have adequate agricultural inputs.
“I must rent tractors if I deliver my crops to any supermarket. When you add up all the costs, you may believe that having your own farm supplies is the only way you can earn a reasonable profit.”
Sikundla points out that obtaining funds is another challenge. Everyone would advise you to get started, she says, but the beginning is not difficult at all; the biggest hurdle is continuing what you have already begun.
“Money is constantly required; it’s expensive to expand. You need it to pay your agricultural employees, rent supplies, etc.”
The bigger picture
When it comes to her vision, she sees herself as a successful farmer.
“I imagine myself at my largest farm, wearing gumboots and work suits,” Sikundla shares.
“The primary objective is to increase agribusiness. I aim to grow affordable, fresh food in South Africa and for neighbouring nations.”
According to Sikundla, she is considering agro-processing. If given the opportunity to grow, she would want to increase her cattle to generate fresh milk, biltong and meat, as well as make her own mealie meal, and other maize goods from the maize grown in her fields.
Why is Mzansi battling poverty?
Food is quite costly, yet it is essential and Sikundla believes Mzansi is not doing enough to educate people about food production and food security.
“We should not be battling poverty or starvation in this country with so much fertile land and resources.”
She encourages everyone who wants to start to make a sacrifice. She believes that if you don’t try, you won’t even begin.
“As long as you have land, starting small doesn’t have to be costly; you might, for instance, ask a friend for some seeds.”
Get Stories of Change: Inspirational stories from the people that feed Mzansi.