What do you call someone who leaves her comfy office job to farm with chickens? Brave? Or crazy perhaps?
Nezisa Sogoni is a business school and IT graduate turned poultry farmer who did just that. And no matter what you want you think of her decision, the 28-year-old from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape believes that all she did was follow her dream.
“There’s nothing crazy about what I did. I was following my dream and wanted to prove to myself that I am capable, and that my dream is valid. My dream kept me going and it was the reason why I woke up every morning. Without dreams we are nothing,” Sogoni exclaims.
Sogoni is a graduate of the London School of Business SA and Natgrowth IT and she worked at a cellular company as an accounts consultant for three years. There she assisted businesses, SMME’s and municipalities to take care of their technology needs.
When Sogoni contemplated joining Mzansi’s farming community, there was no shortage of opinions from people (mostly friends) who tried to dissuade her from quitting her office job. But the go-getter remained steadfast.
“Inkukhu (chicken) bra, you can’t be serious? What if it doesn’t work out? Out of everything you could do, why chickens? What about the diseases they carry, how will you cope with that?” These were some of the remarks from Sogoni’s naysayers.
Her parents on the other hand, although sceptical at first, were very supportive of their daughter. According to the chicken farmer, her parents believed that it was better to try and risk failure than to regret never trying.
“Having a business is very challenging. You need support and encouragement to keep going. Support from loved ones yields young, confident entrepreneurs. I’m glad to have enjoyed the support of my parents,” Sogoni says.
In fact, it was her mother’s financial support and Sogoni’s savings that kick-started her farming venture.
Nezisa Sogoni Poultry Farm
This young farmer might be courageous, but taking up space in Mzansi’s agri-sector was challenging. She first tried her hand at farming in June 2018, and failed.
“I was scammed by a company I found online, which promises to help launch aspiring chicken farmers. Everything looked legit and I paid for 100 chickens, and equipment, but the delivery was never made. That day I cried like nobody’s business and it felt like I was about to have a mini heart attack. I had to start all over again,” Sogoni exclaims.
With another attempt, her farming enterprise finally took form, this time with ten chickens that she bought and then re-sold at a higher price from the rondavel in her parents’ township home in Msobomvu.
“I believe that if you are not willing to start small, it’s better you don’t start at all.”
In August that same year, Sogoni moved to Mpenduza village in Butterworth where she is currently based. There she started cultivating broilers (baby chickens) on a family plot of about 7600 square metres that had been vacant for a few years. Four months later Sogoni had successfully raised more than one hundred chickens.
Today she calls the family plot Nezisa Sogoni Poultry Farm, where she employs one permanent and one part-time worker. Together, they produce about 500 chickens per month which are then sold to street vendors, resellers, households and university students.
‘Babe of chickens’ says ‘start small’
When Sogoni launched her farming career she made a calculated decision to start very small. In her post on the popular Facebook group #ImStaying, the farmer shared details of her small beginnings.
She explains, “I wanted to familiarize myself first with the sector and learn all the processes of chicken farming. I believe that if you are not willing to start small, it’s better you don’t start at all.”
Knowing that her dream has become her purpose makes Sogoni happy. Also, contributing to Mzansi’s agri-sector, being able to donate to those less fortunate than her, and encouraging the youth pleases her.
“As a child I used to have visions of running around chasing chickens. I know it sounds crazy, but I think those crazy visions contributed to where I am now.”
Lessons learned and never repeated
Sogoni has done well, but it hasn’t always been easy. Even to this day she is not exempt from the struggles young farmers endure. Access to markets and broiler producers who delay with their deliveries are constant obstacles. Due to Butterworth’s water crisis, Sogoni has been forced to buy water for her chickens from a private water company. Another struggle is receiving orders for large quantities, only to be disappointed by customers who do not collect their orders.
“I’ve started a deposit policy on all orders over 20. Farming has a business element to it, and you can’t afford any wastage or unnecessary loss in business,” she says.
Not only has Sogoni’s failures taught her valuable lessons, but it has encouraged her to start sharing agricultural knowledge with others.
“After my ordeal, I advise new farmers to never pay until the delivery has been made and to always ask for reviews from other people. Instead of buying everything at once, test only with a few products at first. If it happens that you get scammed it is not the end of the world. Let that make you work even harder,” she says.
“Today, I’m known as the ‘babe of chickens’. Whenever I used to sell in the street, people would call on me saying ‘Babes, ndicela inkukhu (can I please have a chicken?)’.
“Another lady said ‘khobethe babes wenkukhu’. She was basically boosting my confidence and the name just stuck with me.”
As she plots her way forward, “babes wenkukhu” hopes to employ more youth and see her brand in all Butterworth supermarkets. She also plans to diversify her poultry offering and acquire more chicken houses.