If there’s one piece of advice that agripreneur Thuli Mageba has taken to heart, it is the words of her grandmother, Nomkhosi Zulu, who urged her to not join the hustle to reach big retailers, but to instead keep it local.
Today, her business, Misuzulu Poultry, sells pre-packaged chicken to vendors at taxi ranks in KwaNongoma, about 300 kilometres north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mageba (29), who holds an honours degree in supply chain management, comes from a family of subsistence farmers. And as she continues to build her year-old business, she is holding on to uGogo Nomkhosi’s wisdom.
“The best advice I received from my grandmother was to not rush into supplying big retailers, stores and markets, but rather start with the informal markets and grow from there,” she tells Food For Mzansi.
“You see those people selling on the streets and at taxi ranks. Don’t underestimate the value of their money to your business.”
Every day, Mageba sells about 15 pre-packaged chickens in the informal market. There is also great interest in her live chickens from other local food businesses and community members. They love supporting her because they know her chickens are raised in her own backyard.
It’s about the size of a tennis court, and Mageba has since also started planting vegetables in her backyard of fortune. Her single chicken house can easily accommodate up to 2 000 chickens, she says.
U-turn in the right direction
Starting a business didn’t come easy for Mageba.
No, she was forced by circumstances.
In 2019, after working for an international non-profit health organisation, she was suddenly faced with retrenchment. With bills to pay and a new-born baby to look after, Mageba panicked about her uncertain future.
“Yoh!” she exclaims, “I was so confused. I didn’t have any plans. I couldn’t afford to pay rent and I was on the verge of selling my car back to the bank.”
What came next shocked her entire family.
“I decided to give farming a go. I started with 500 broilers, bought feed and erected fencing two months after I was retrenched using the money I had saved up. Many poultry farms were closing down in that time, so there was an opportunity for me to tap into that market, but I had to act quick.”
When she told uGogo Nomkhosi that she wanted to venture into farming, she sat her down for some shrewd advice.
“Granny said that sometimes I would fail and that not everything will always be one hundred percent. However, I should not give up. She also said that in farming business can get slow, but at the end of the day you earn money if you’re patient,” Mageba recalls.
While admitting that she was initially anxious, she has loved every minute spent farming and selling her produce.
Supplying informal sector
On weekdays, Mageba makes delivery trips to her clients. However, instead of it being a cash on delivery service, she gives vendors another week before she goes to collect her hard-earned money.
“I think many farmers, especially young ones, don’t believe in supplying the informal market, but rather (want to work with) big brands. With the bigger brands, you only get your money at the end of the month, meanwhile you have production costs to cover. So, at least with the informal sector you get your money every week, or every day, and this enables you to operate.”
Nowadays, the dynamic young agripreneur can even be found stationed outside community halls to market her chicken braai packs to the elderly when they go and collect their monthly old-age grant.
Setting new goals
As a new farmer, Mageba admits that it took real effort to convince her customers that she could be trusted. Also, she had to face limited water access. As a result, she decided to only plant crops like sugar beans that requires a lot less water to grow.
There were also lessons to be learnt about people buying chickens on credit, but never paying for it. But perhaps the biggest challenge is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic although, like a true entrepreneur, she is making moves to ensure her survival.
“In October last year I started teaching people on poultry farming via Skype and I charge them R1 000 for a one-on-one session. I also wrote a PDF manual on how to raise broilers. People buy them from me and I mentor them.”
The massive blow of not being able to sell her chickens in the early days of the Covid lockdown nearly killed her business.
“I don’t want to lie, I was thinking of closing down. But then I was like, no man… Starting was very challenging, so why should I stop now after putting so much effort into building my brand?”
While 2020 robbed many of their goals and dreams, Mageba remains steadfast in achieving hers. Her future plans include growing her business to the extent that she can permanently employ people. She also hopes to open an agricultural centre to train aspiring farmers.
Her advice to up-and-coming farmers? It is ok to start small. “It’s better to start small,” Mageba says. “This will help you reach your long-term goals at a gradual pace without burning out.”