When second-year agricultural student Taetso Tsebogo decided to start a poultry enterprise from his mother’s backyard in 2019, it was not because he wanted to.
On the contrary, poverty forced the 23-year-old agriculture student into entrepreneurship when his mother lost her job and he had bills to pay for his agri studies.
To escape poverty, Tsebogo decided to team up with his best friend and brother Mahlahlo Thibela (21) who would help him get the poultry business off the ground. Thibela, who has always had a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, did not think twice and jumped at the opportunity of partnering with Tsebogo.
Their poultry business, situated near Acornhoek in a small village called Ga-Boelang in Mpumalanga, was started with money they received from their NSFAS bursaries. Tsebogo is currently studying towards a qualification in agriculture at Ehlanzeni TVET College, while Thibela studies towards a diploma in law at the Nelson Mandela University.
When they started, their chicken house boasted only a few hundred chickens. Today, they have a second poultry branch and have close to 500 chickens at each. They even ventured into growing spinach. The farming duo sells close to 1000 bunches of spinach per week to a local supermarket.
Pushed into entrepreneurship
Tsebogo recalls, “When my mother lost her job, and she could not afford my student accommodation anymore things became difficult. At one point, I even had to ask my landlord if I could clean the accommodation grounds to help pay for my stay there.”
He says he made the choice to not allow period of difficulty to define his future. Instead, young Tsebogo used the moment of defeat as the motivation to build his farming dreams.
For Thibela on the other hand, it was a golden opportunity to get into business at a very young age.
“I’ve always wanted to be a business man. I must admit I never wanted to be a farmer, but the opportunity was in front of me and everything just made sense,” he says.
The farming duo decided to scale up and opened their second poultry branch in their grandmother’s backyard in the same village. In addition to farming with poultry, the two added an additional product to their offering.
“When we started the community was very supportive of us, however not a lot of people showed interest in chickens. This forced us to explore vegetable farming.”
‘Many young people look down on agriculture and say it is for the poor and uneducated, which is not true.’
Thibela and Tsebogo did their market research and started planting spinach just as the nation-wide lockdown was introduced in March.
According to Thibela, “It’s not easy scaling up, but there was a high demand and we had to take the opportunity and expand.”
The two say their grandmother, Erina Mokwena, would have been proud to see her grandsons follow in her footsteps.
She too farmed with chickens and both Thibela and Tsebogo were responsible for feeding them.
“My grandmother would wake up early in the morning to prepare the soil during the rainy season. My brother and I would join her although we were still young and didn’t have strong passion nor knowledge about agriculture,” Tsebogo recalls.
Starting a business and farming challenges
Starting a business while completing their studies, the two admits, is no small feat. On top of that, they had no practical experience. The farming brothers discovered many challenges they were not prepared for, like transportation for deliveries.
“Sometimes we have to walk close to 3km to deliver produce in our village. It’s tough and it gets hot in our part of the world. We were scared that our spinach wouldn’t make it to our clients looking fresh because of the heat.”
At times they supply produce at a loss because they have to hire someone to deliver it.
“The drivers charge a lot of money. Sometimes we only supply for the sake of maintaining our market contracts even though we don’t make money,” Thibela states.
They believe access to land where they can plant more will solve this problem for them. Access to land, they say, is a headache. They agree that it is preventing them from expanding their agribusiness and meeting the demand.
Agriculture is not for the poor and uneducated
While finalising their studies, Tsebogo and Thibela want to diversify their offering in agriculture and supply what their community needs. Thereafter they hope to open various vegetable markets in and around the community and employ people from the area.
Together with Thibela, they plan to build their market and work on a name for their business. The two understand the importance of networking and says their plan is to invest in marketing.
Tsebogo says his goal is to inspire and prove to young people it is possible to make a living out of agriculture.
“Many young people look down on agriculture and say it is for the poor and uneducated, which is not true. Some people go even further to say that agriculture is dirty work.
“Therefore, I would like to change those narratives. I would love to promote food security in our lifetime and allow my community and South Africa at large to have access to affordable, healthy food,” Tsebogo states.