After years of working in the banking sector, Mary Mazibuko discovered her love for entrepreneurship when her side hustle as a courier sub-contractor became profitable. Her entrepreneurship journey saw her thrive in many industries, until eventually she happened upon agriculture. Mazibuko is one of the extraordinary women selected for Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Hindsight is sometimes funny, and for Mazibuko, it rings with irony. During her high school career, she took agriculture as a subject, and hated it.
“My subject grouping compelled me to take Agricultural Science. Needless to say, I did not like it at all. It was difficult and I did not see how it was going to help me in the future. I only did it because I did not have another choice. But guess where I am retiring?!”.
An entrepreneur to the bone, Mazibuko’s love for business started in 2001. At the time, she worked in human resources in the banking sector, and as a side-hustle, landed a sub-contract with a courier company.
“It was profitable. At this stage, I realised that a salary was never going to be enough to grow me financially to build the wealth that I desired for my family.”
Mazibuko’s entrepreneurship journey wandered briefly into television, after her 2002 home renovations caught the eye of a television producer. She says the producer asked her if they could film in her home, and she agreed. The renting of her home was a profitable period for her, and she explains that it was also the reason she pivoted into catering.
“On this television project, there was a lady who was catering for the crew. I was fascinated by the equipment she was using to serve her meals. It was all glamorous and shiny, and the setup was just beautiful and intriguing. This prompted me to ask her a lot of questions. She explained the business in detail and offered to help me start my own.”
The following year, Mazibuko resigned from the banking industry, and started her own catering business. She went back to school to learn the food trade, but found out more about business instead.
“I learnt a lot about catering as a business; how to relate with the customer, how to source catering jobs, how to retain and build a loyal customer base, how to be the preferred supplier, the importance of time and integrity to the customer, multi-tasking, and flexibility.”
Mazibuko spent twelve years in the catering industry. In 2016, a chance invite to a farmer gathering propelled her into farming.
Bitten by the farming bug
Izindaba Zokudla, or Conversations about Food, is a food systems project run by Dr Naudé Malan, a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg. The project hosts what is called a “farmer’s lab” every month, which is how Mazibuko was re-introduced to farming.
“My next-door neighbour, Mirriam Peete, told me about the Farmers’ Lab. I was intrigued. I decided to attend the very next session as it was going to be the last one for the year.”
The Farmer’s Lab was Mazibuko’s first contact with farmers of all demographics, and they inspired a new kind of passion in her.
“It was beautiful and informative. I was excited, I was happy, and it felt like home. I never missed a single session. It felt good when I was there. I was fulfilled. Every session had an expert speaker to teach us about agriculture. There was an exchange of ideas, and I integrated with knowledgeable people of all levels, and attended agricultural conferences. It was just gratifying.”
Through the Farmer’s Lab meet-ups, Mazibuko met many agriculturalists who helped her with her farming journey. She spent 2016 to 2019 learning more about farming, and since starting her farming operation in 2019, built it into a commercial success.
Creating a poultry empire
As a poultry farmer, Mazibuko’s main commodity is broiler chickens. Her operation is based in Potchefstroom in the North West, where she also farms with cattle.
With an operation of over sixty thousand chickens at full capacity, her eye is on further expansion. She is currently increasing the number of chicken houses on her farm and is aiming to export her product.
“I am also planning to open a poultry production academy. I have noticed a gap between the education given to students at universities and colleges. After graduation, they are not employment ready.”
Recounting an incident where an agriculture student was doing their in-service training on her farm, Mazibuko details how a lack of training cost her thousands of rand. The student was operating a winch system used to feed the chickens.
“Because of a lack of knowledge on how the system works, she turned the winch too much. The entire line of feeder pans, 130 square metres, landed on the chicks. It was pandemonium. They died.”
Mazibuko says the incident was one of many, which is why she is motivated to start her own academy. In her experience, a deeper focus on employment-readiness and ethics need to be addressed.
“The interns are not taught work ethic. This academy will work hand in hand with the current institutions of learning to prepare them to come out better prepared and employable. There is also a big shortage of qualified farm managers at commercial level. The academy will address this problem.”
A focus on learning
For Mazibuko, education is key to being successful in the sector. While she plans to start an academy for graduates, she is not above learning herself. This is why she was so excited to get into the Corteva Women Agrpreneur programme.
“A good entrepreneur is one who always strives to grow, to improve themselves, and who is genuinely critical of themselves. A good entrepreneur looks outside to see how things are done in comparison to how they operate, and is open to learning. The Corteva Women Agripreneur programme is one such avenue.”
Coming into the programme, Mazibuko says she had many academic goals for herself. So far, she has reached all of them.
“Anyone who has come through the Corteva GIBS corridors can never be the same when they leave, in terms of how they operate, how they think, and how they conduct their businesses and themselves. This is what I came here for, and I am achieving my goal in every interaction with the institution.”
A self-motivated and resilient person, Mazibuko stays solution-focused throughout trying times. Her passion for farming drives how she runs her business, and keeps her motivated despite challenges.
“I love farming. It is a lifestyle for me, not just a job. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. The fact that I own land is an achievement that I do not take for granted and I will hold on to it forever, against all odds. It is gratifying that, in my lifetime, I was blessed enough to build an inheritance for my children.”
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