Five recent agricultural graduates have taken a bold leap. Rather than working on established farms, they’ve chosen to lease their own land and collectively manage a thriving two-hectare farm in Tarlton Agri-Pak, Gauteng. Their diverse range of vegetables is now flourishing and gracing the shelves of the East Rand – a major urban area in the province.
Nondumiso Mdluli, Keoikantse Sencomedi, Nomvelo Matsane, Yandisa Cujana, and Nolwandle Zulu, are the proud owners of NYK Evergreen, a cooperative formally established in May 2023.
When you speak with these young ladies, a clear, common thread emerges. They dared to break from tradition and forge their path in agriculture.
Together, they lease two hectares of land from farmer Katlego Meso. They grow cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, onions, cabbages, and beetroot, as well as herbs such as basil, coriander, and thyme.
According to Zulu, they aspire to establish a mixed-crop agricultural enterprise that is both prosperous and sustainable. They believe that such an enterprise, owned and operated by black women, would lead to a thriving local food economy.
“We plan on staying competitive by producing evergreen, fresh produce consistently and meeting the market’s demand,” says Zulu.
Mdluli states that their primary goal is to serve their clients with integrity and professionalism and to establish a long-term relationship of trust and mutual benefit.
“Now that we are exposed to the farming industry, we have access to networking which will assist us to grow shortly after our internship,” says Mdluli.
All it takes is a bit of guts
Sencomedi tells Food for Mzansi that it all began after they were accepted into the Gauteng department of agriculture, rural development, and environment’s two-year internship programme.
“Our extension officer, Tebogo Mohlasedi, saw potential in us and advised that we start a co-op. We then spoke to the farm owner, Katlego Meso, to lease us the tunnels, and he was generous enough to do so. We then registered our co-op and that’s how we started,” says Sencomedi.
They believe the business venture will be successful because they come from different backgrounds, each with their strengths and weaknesses.
Sencomedi explains that their objective is to enhance production planning and management skills, which will lead to greater efficiency and the ability to meet market demands. They believe this focus on improved management will be essential to the success of the enterprise.
Putting theory into practice
“The theory from varsity is also helpful as we can put it into practice and gain more practical knowledge to make sure that our business is thriving,” says Sencomedi.
According to Matsane, they have had trouble finding a steady clientele since they began, but they are successfully selling their goods to East Rand communities.
“In the previous season, we had a deal with a company called Khula to produce fancy lettuce for them, and they were quite impressed with our production,” said Matsane.
She mentions that working with Khula was a positive experience overall. However, a challenge arose when they were struggling to sell all of their produce, specifically the fancy lettuce, within a short period due to a lack of a suitable market.
Cujana acknowledges that their current challenge is the lack of capital. They do not have the necessary funding to support production inputs, such as chemicals, fertilisers, labour, and sufficient equipment.
Igniting a passion for future generations
“The co-op made us realise that we do have a lot of potential and more to give to the nation. It has also influenced us to work together as a team, share the same vision to achieve our main goal and have a different perspective on how we see and value things,” says Cujana.
These young female agri graduates aspire to ignite a passion for farming among the younger generation. They envision agriculture as a catalyst for change in their communities and are committed to turning that vision into reality.
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