Giving financial advice to farmers is what encouraged the Welkom-born Happy Letsitsa to venture into farming himself. The rest is history, as they say, and today he is supplying the “big guns” with his fresh produce.
Letsitsa tells Food For Mzansi that although his father had a piece of land in the Free State, he had no real interest in working it. Instead, he was set on climbing the corporate ladder. In fact, he never dreamt of one day leasing 600 hectares of land.
“Following interaction with farmers [for whom] I was their financial advisor, that is where I started developing the love for farming,” he says. “In 2016, that is when I actually started being serious about getting into the agriculture sector.”
Letsitsa successfully applied for state-owned land. “They bought me a 423-hectare farm, but at the time I relied on mentors to guide me because I lacked experience of doing farming on a daily basis.”
As time went by, he became more independent.
“From the initial farm I got, 123 hectares were for grazing while 300 hectares is arable. I started planting what I was advised to, and it turned good. With the profits I started buying second-hand tractors and other important resources needed to make life easier for me.”
Enlarging his territory
Letsitsa then increased his agribusiness by leasing more land from a neighbour who retired.
His biggest break, however, was landing a contract with FarmSol, a leading South African agricultural development organisation.
He supplies them with maize while Sixalo, another company, relies on his sunflower oil which is used to manufacture a well-known margarine brand.
“The weather has been a very big challenge for me,” he says, talking about some of the uphill battles farmers face. “Climate change has really hit us. Following years of drought, this year we received too much rain, which led to some of the crops being destroyed.”
Another major challenge is the poor road infrastructure in the Free State. And if that is not enough, “the dams and rivers are overflowing once it’s raining. The drainage system is also a challenge. The escalating feed, fertiliser and petrol costs are making it hard for one to even hire more people.”
Currently, Letsitsa has seven full-time employees.
He says, “With the minimum wage [being enforced] and rising operational costs, it is difficult to even hire more people. I do not want to see myself retrenching anyone but, instead, I want to increase my staff complement.
“Running a farm is not easy, Eskom is also charging us a huge amount for electricity. As a farmer, security is also important. So, there are many factors that keep me awake but we continue doing our best.”
Furthermore, he believes having a 30-year government lease is holding him back. If he was the rightful owner of the land, he could more easily accelerate the growth of his farming enterprise.
Big demand for future skills
Despite this, Letsitsa remains hopeful about the future. He encourages more young people to choose agriculture and to also study this field at tertiary institutions. Also, he is available to share his knowledge with newcomers to the sector.
“I will encourage young people to get as much information as possible. Go to school and be equipped.
“We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is also equally important in the agricultural sector. We need people with skills who can lead us into precision farming. We need young people with relevant qualifications to come through.”
In previous years, many agriculture students from abroad as well as the University of the Free State gained work experience on his farm.
“Learn as much as possible,” advises Letsitsa. “Have long-term plans and ensure that you succeed over a longer period. Do not be excited by one big contract and think you have made it. Strive for more and be the change your community needs.”
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