Dairy farmer on mission to make a difference

It was missionary work on the continent that awakened Eastern Cape dairy farmer Siviwe Tikana to the life-changing power of agriculture.

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It was exactly ten years ago when dairy farmer Siviwe Tikana (28) joined a missionary organisation called Youth With a Mission in Worcester, Western Cape, in his gap year after high school to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

His mother, Nozuko, and father, Nceba Tikana, were both pastors in East London in the Eastern Cape at the time and it made sense for him to join the missionary group to find his true purpose.

“My time at the missionary was only supposed to last eight months because I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do after school, but those eight months turned into three years because I enjoyed it so much,” he says.

During his time as a missionary, Siviwe mostly travelled in Africa and that is where he saw a lot of injustices that were happening against women.

“I looked at the need and how these women actually work and how agriculture plays such a huge role in their daily lives and I was like, okay, this is really something that I want to be part of,” he says.

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Farming to make a difference

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Tikana decided there and then that he would venture into agriculture to use it as tool to help these women and many other people on the continent.

This was about the time that his parents also decided to venture into agriculture.

“My granddad was an agriculturalist, and my mom grew up around dairy farming because my grandfather had a small dairy operation in the Eastern Cape. Because my mother had experience in that field, she decided that we as a family should venture into dairy farming.”

dairy farmer Siviwe Tikana
Siviwe Tikana farms with dairy cattle which he calls his “dairy queens”, and they supply their milk to the formal and informal market in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

They acquired the 42-hectare Rosedene Dairy Farm just outside East London from the provincial department of agriculture and started farming with dairy cattle in 2015.

“My mother assumed the role of director, she is the brains and machine behind this whole thing. Unathi Abbiw, my older sister, does admin and finance, and Kholwa Tikana, who is also my sister, does sales and marketing. I am the farm manager,” he says.

“You honestly cannot look at this as a quick-buck-making scheme.”

They specialised in dairy farming and Siviwe shares that their biggest challenge was penetrating the formal market.

“We learned that supplying our milk to all the big retailers is not always [ideal]. Those guys have a standard that they need to keep, not to say that our produce was of a lower standard or anything, but they have certain requirements. Also, they always try to negotiate your price so instead of focusing on the formal market we focused on the informal market more.”

Finding a niche in the informal market

They found that the informal market was much more loyal to their business than the formal market. “In the formal market a lot goes into it. Even your branding needs to be a certain colour, you need to focus on keeping up with your competition and these large companies, so they will push your price down,” he says.

dairy farmer Siviwe Tikana
Siviwe Tikana and his family currently employ eight workers and 11 seasonal workers on Rosedene Dairy Farm in East London in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The Tikanas currently supply their unpasteurised milk to the informal market in the Eastern Cape and they also make pasteurised amasi (sour milk) which they sell in the informal market and cash-and-carry outlets around the province.

The family has been in the dairy farming industry for almost eight years now. Siviwe shares that some of the toughest lessons he has learnt is that farming is about taking risks.

“I think there’s a lot of sacrifice that you need to go with, a lot of gambling and risking. Because you need to know that every decision that you take has a negative or positive consequence in farming.”

“So, I think that we took the risk and we gamble every day with what we do,” he says.

Siviwe also started farming with pigs this year as a side hustle, because he believes that in farming you shouldn’t just focus on one thing.

“We have 25 pigs. Maybe by Friday or next week we will buy about ten more because we are trying to build up our pigs to about 100, because that is the capacity we can take on the farm.”

Tikana ventured into the pig business with his friend and neighbour, Michael Horn, to make an extra income.

WATCH: Hardship of a young black farmer

Future goals

In the future the Tikanas would like to see themselves as big role-players in the food processing industry. They also want to mentor and teach people about agriculture and dairy farming.

“I think there’s also a market in agritourism that we can definitely tap into, because we are in a perfect, beautiful location here on the wild coast,” he says.

“We get a lot of tourists, and a lot of schools in East London that are interested in bringing their kids onto the farm and just teaching them about where milk actually comes from. So, we would definitely like to do that, but also get some more land because 42 hectares isn’t enough if we want to grow,” he adds.

His advice to young, aspiring farmers is to farm for passion, not money.

“You honestly cannot look at this as a quick-buck-making scheme. You have to have the passion,” he says. He warns that many sacrifices will be required of you and that some form of financial backing is essential.

“But I don’t want people’s dreams to be deterred by finances. Speak with the people that you have in your life. Try to have them invest into this dream that you have and just get started.”

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