After completing her studies in animal production at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in KwaZulu-Natal, Khulile Mahlalela worked as a farmworker at a large-scale pig producer for five years.
The company closed and instead of looking for employment elsewhere, Mahlalela was determined to strike her own success by starting her own farm. Although fearful, she was prepared to face the journey of uncertainty even if it meant falling flat on her face.
Today, Mahlalela is one of the leading peach farmers in Mpumalanga farming on 90 hectares. On top of that, she runs a successful piggery and acts as a mentor for aspiring pig farmers. She also has a charcoal and wood business, which boosts her cash flow.
Mahlalelas’ success lies in constantly reinventing herself and finding new ways of generating additional income.
‘Farming brings healing’
“Farming is a beautiful therapy – it heals the soul beside the fact that it puts bread on the table, it also brings healing,” she says.
“I always wanted to be a geologist [and do something] with soil or rocks. My matric results were not good, so I had to choose something else I was passionate about – farming.”
If it works, why change?
Mahlalela has been a farmer for about 14 years and is the owner of Becca Farming Projects.
She launched her business with three pigs but she later received 11 pigs from the provincial department of agriculture, rural development, and land reform’s Masibuyele Esibayeni Programme.
“It took over 100 days for a piglet to grow into a pig before selling them to supermarkets, individuals, and people who wanted to start their own businesses.
“Although my passion was pigs, I later got a farm that was dealing with peaches. I then ventured into peach farming because I did not have a good structure with the pigs and they were stolen a lot, so I had to diversify,” Mahlalela explains.
She farms on leased land that she obtained through Partners in Agri Land Solutions (Pals) and has a 30-year lease agreement in place with the department of agriculture. She is leasing Wonderhoek Farm, outside of Middleburg in the Nkangala District, Mpumalanga.
Mahlalela found the land with 90 hectares of peach trees and decided to continue with the existing peach production. “I’m one person who believes that if it worked before, it can work again. The farm was abandoned and it was doing great.”
She says that the farm created a lot of job opportunities and took care of the community.
“Hawkers would come and tell their stories about how they would queue for peaches at the farm so I still believe that the farm has a lot of potential. It was one of the biggest peach farms in Mpumalanga.”
Opportunities are hidden in problems
Today, Mahlalela sells her peaches at the Johannesburg and Tshwane fresh produce markets. Apart from the local markets in Mpumalanga, she also sells to the subtropical food market in Witbank. Once harvesting begins, she employs seasonal workers and some sell the peaches along the road.
But don’t be fooled, Mahlalela’s transition has not been without challenges.
“The previous year (2022) we had hail so we couldn’t harvest much. So I requested a donation from Thungela (a leading pure-play producer and exporter of coal), bought two ovens, and made charcoal out of old peach trees. Our cash flow is now charcoal and my business is now known as Becca Farming Projects,” she explains.
Mahlalela believes challenges allow her to think outside the box. “If you don’t come across challenges, you won’t grow. I’ve also learned to never count your profit before you sell.”
Having spent years in the pig farming industry, people trust her opinion. She has also won several awards including the Mpumalanga 2019 Female Farmer of the Year; the ministerial special award on Youth in Agriculture for Best Smallholder; and the new commercial farmer award from Agricultural Writers SA.
As Mahlalela continues her journey in peach farming, she envisions a future of creating more job opportunities and making her farm one of the biggest again. She is now working on plans to process the fresh peaches into dry fruits, another avenue Mahlalela believes is worth generating additional income for her.
She encourages young entrepreneurs to always be open to mentorship and new learning opportunities.
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