Forestry farmer Musawenkosi Kubheka believes newcomers in the agricultural industry can survive and even thrive in forestry in Mzansi. The 29-year-old farmer from Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal is a living testament to this, citing the day he made his first million as a career highlight.
His success did not come without a price. “To be where I am today is heart-warming, overwhelming and humbling. Whether we like it or not, being a black farmer in South Africa is political. Someone died for me to have what I have today”.
Kubheka is the last born and only son in his family, with three older sisters.“My father gave up on having a son, hence my name Musawenkosi, which means Grace of God,” he says.
The young agriculturalist spent his formative years in Newcastle, where he completed his schooling and later attended the University of Pretoria and completed a Bachelor of Commerce in Internal Auditing in 2014. After matric he was dead set on starting his own business, but his father, Raymond, who was a safety officer for the Department of Health in Vryheid, ensured that all his children complete a formal qualification first.
“I knew when I matriculated that I wanted to go into business. But it was my father’s rule that anyone that lives under his roof must go and get a qualification.”
After graduating, Kubheka handed his qualification to his dad, saying: “Here’s what you paid for and now it’s my chance to do what I want to do”.
In his matric year, Kubheka’s father bought a tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB, is a heavy equipment vehicle that consists of a tractor-like unit fitted with a loader-style shovel on the front and a backhoe also called back actor on the back) to outsource to the Department of Transport. His father considered selling the tractor when he ran into some challenges, but the young farmer convinced his father to allow him to operate it. “My first job was to make sure the machine had diesel and I got paid R50 for doing that after I graduated,” he says.
Soon Kubheka and his father were running a part-time construction business before he became engrossed in the prospects of farming. “I met a man who worked on a farm and he told me about a young man whose father gave him 1 000 lambs. I asked about his farm and he pointed to kilometres and kilometres of land. Then I told myself, ‘if one man can wake up in the morning and own that much land, why can’t I?’”
The possibilities were endless and Kubheka started researching various farming ventures.
“I started exploring what’s happening in maize, what’s happening in livestock farming, what’s happening with all the industries. Then I bumped into forestry,” he explained.
The risk factor attracted Kubheka to forestry farming. “With a tree, even if there’s drought it still grows. It survives, it doesn’t die. When it hails, it survives and when it comes to theft, if you steal my timber you only have limited places to sell,” he says.
In 2015 Khubheka started his forestry business on communal land in Msinga Top and Wakkerstroom. “I produced my own timber and penetrated the market by farming on communal land,” he adds. Two years later with support from the Land Bank, Khubheka bought a 2 100 hectare farm that’s split into three farms to operate his forestry business.
“The biggest challenge you can have as a forestry farmer is a lack of market. That’s the worst, worst thing that can happen. The most common risk factor you can have in forestry is fire, but there are ways to mitigate that risk,” he says.
In the five years since Kunheka stepped into the agricultural industry, he has made quite a name for himself. The young agripreneur says he has already set his two, three, five, ten and twenty year goals.
“When it comes to forestry I want it to work at its full potential. I’m looking into expanding into a bigger enterprise and I want more farms, not only in the northern region of KwaZulu Natal but also the southern region of the Underberg,” he says.
The big picture for this young farmer is that at the age of 60 he wants to own ten thousand hectares of land. “That is the big dream, when I retire I should be able to give the baton over to my kids with at least ten thousand hectares. And I’m saying having titles deeds of the properties.”
This young farmers knows the ins and out of his business. “When I came into forestry I extracted my own timber from plantation. I did the whole process, harvesting, extracting and taking the product to Richards Bay where we normally sell. I know exactly how everything works in my business and I grew with my business”.
His advice to aspiring farmers or anyone interested in any kind of business? “Know your passion first and foremost, because you are going to encounter challenges and what keeps you going is determination and passion.”