How Tsholo found purpose through tragedy

female farmers

Tsholo Penyenye (44) took over the family farm after her father passed away and now admits that agriculture revealed a side of her she never knew existed. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Next up on Food For Mzansi’s #SoilSistas celebrating female farmers is Tsholo Penyenye from Ramatlabama village in North West. Powered by Corteva Agriscience, we highlight some of the extraordinary women who are participating in the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).

Shortly after the death of her father, Tsholo Penyenye had a difficult decision to make. She could either live in grief, consumed with sadness and anger after losing her father who toiled his land passionately. Or she could take on the most daunting task of her life and run the family farming business.

Tsholo started a marketing research company with her sister. The company facilitates marketing and research for clients in predominately remote areas of South Africa.

She chose the latter and today counts among the finest of North West female farmers. However, not only did the life-changing decision bring her success, but the farmer also says agriculture revealed a side of her that she never knew existed.

“You think you know yourself, but you really don’t. I didn’t know how resilient I was until I became a farmer,” Penyenye states.

Her farm lies on 400 hectares in the Ramatlabama village where she runs a mixed farming operation producing cattle, feed and crops. This is all managed by the Penyenye Family Primary Cooperative which her father established many years ago.

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Generational success weighs on her shoulders

Growing up in Mahikeng in North West, Penyenye had always harboured feelings of restlessness to escape the confines of her small town. So, she dropped out of varsity, where she studied marketing, to pursue a career as a flight attendant.

Having always wanted to travel, but never being able to afford it, Penyenye decided that the best way to do this would be by applying for a flight crew position.

“I was blessed,” she admits. “Our parents always encouraged us to explore. They allowed us to be exposed to various experiences and cultures. I’ve travelled the world, which was quite a great experience for me.

“I must be honest I really didn’t miss home. I was too busy having the time of my life,” she chuckles. “I would make it a point to come home every now and then to see my family, but that was about it.”

Penyenye soon grew tired of the air travel industry. So, while working for South African Airways, she decided to finally obtain her marketing qualification, this time through UNISA.

At the time, she and her sister were discussing plans to start a company in which they would facilitate marketing and research for clients. They eventually did and Penyenye ended up travelling even more than before.

But this came to an abrupt end on the day her father passed away. Suddenly, the weight of a first-generation black farming family fell on her shoulders.

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No time to settle in slowly

Her father had been cultivating the land since 1987. It was through the practice of agriculture that he was able to sustain his family and see Penyenye and her siblings through school and university.

Although her father spent his days toiling away as a farmer, Penyenye had no appetite for the sector and its intense and tiring days. But there was no one else.

“Please don’t make a mistake, it was a scary and daunting decision. Farming from a distance and the real deal where you are actually planting are two completely different things. I was so intimidated, I had the shock of my life,” she says.

When Penyenye took over in 2016, She did not have the luxury of slowly finding her feet and coming to terms with her new life as a farmer.  

“Until I took time to be aware and introspect, I didn’t think that I could do it. Now I always tell myself that failure is not an option. No matter how scary or daunting it is, I will take it on because of the support I have,” Penyenye says. 

Before her father passed, he had created a cooperative which allows the family to enjoy the fruits of his labour. Penyenye explains that if her father did not do it, they would have lost the farm after his passing because it is leased from Government.

“Just thinking about it gives me chills,” she states. “My mother would have been devastated knowing how hard dad worked on this land. She was there with him through all the highs and lows of farming.”

Her father she describes as a great farmer. It would have been a shame if his legacy had gone to waste.

“As black farmers, they went through so many struggles. My father is my drive, lifeline and motivation. I think about him a lot and I have to live up to his expectations. Because of him I am very focused.”

Multiplying a small farming empire

Currently, she focusses on creating multiple projects within the farming business, to help ensure its financial sustainability.

Since taking over from her father, Penyenye has managed to grow their cattle herd from 17 cattle to close to 120. One of her biggest income streams is the feed she sells, grown on her farm.

Apart from being a highly impressive cattle and goat farm, Tsholo Penyenye also produces grasses like Blue Buffalo, Lucerne, sorghum and clover. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

They now also farm with small stock. She has incorporated sheep and has plans to immerse herself in broiler farming. Right now, Penyenye is building the chicken houses and establishing markets.

What she loves about agriculture is the evolution of the industry.

“I love seeing something grow from nothing to something and agriculture is about that. Seeing your product harvested and then taken by trucks and getting the money out of it, oh it’s addictive,” she exclaims.

Her goal, she says, is simple, “I want to take my small empire from a R2 million annual business to a R10 million annual business. I really do, and it’s not even impossible.”

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