The key to obtaining finance for an agri start-up lies in having a clear business plan and not approaching institutions unprepared, advises 28-year-old crop farmer Mzimasi Jalisa.
Jalisa knows first-hand that money is the bloodline of any farming enterprise and sourcing funding to launch an agribusiness can easily become one of the biggest challenges an agripreneur encounters.
“It’s easier to get funding if funding organisations can see that you are being serious. Don’t go empty-handed, at least have something to offer,” Jalisa exclaims.
The young farmer is the proud co-owner of Jay Jay Farming, a crop enterprise located in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. They produce cabbages on a ten-hectare piece of land located on communal grounds, selling to local supermarkets and directly to locals.
Bootstrapping a business off the ground
Getting the business off the ground was no easy feat. To get the business up and running, Jalisa and his business partner had to scrape together any personal funds they could find. Between the two of them they managed to accumulate about R90 000 which was enough to lay the foundation of the business and formalise it.
Once formalised, Jay Jay Farming approached funding institutions in 2018 to assist with production inputs and agricultural supplies.
The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) offered them R50 000 and the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) gave them a loan of R30 000.
Jalisa believes what made them attractive for funders is that they had already started operating on a small scale with their own investments.
“You need to put yourself in a position where you can go to these funding institutions and say, ‘I’ve done one, two and three, but I need help with four, five and six’,” he states.
“I always tell new farmers it’s very difficult for (funding institutions) to believe you, if you go there empty-handed. At least have experience ,but don’t go there with nothing,” Jalisa adds.
Today, Jay Jay Farming is one of the leading suppliers of cabbage in Mthatha, but the path to gain this momentum was not an easy one.
At the beginning of their journey, the water pump on the communal land gave them problems and their crop was almost all scorched by the sun because the irrigation schedule was missed.
Also, because they were using a relative’s bakkie, they often encountered transportation issues because of mechanical failures. This regularly resulted in the business failing to supply their customers’ needs.
A mind for business cultivated in childhood
Jalisa believes his approach to business today is partly based on his experiences as a child.
“Business has always been in our blood. When I was in grade eight I was selling sweets and milk. When I was at varsity I was cutting gents’ hair for a small fee,” he says.
What also contributed was that he grew up surrounded by subsistence farmers who toiled to make money. When he attended university, agriculture was his very last choice. Jalisa fancied marine biology and pharmaceutics.
“I never had an urge to study agriculture formally. I always thought of it as being an industry for people who are not educated. Because I grew up with it, I didn’t know you could study it,” he admits.
‘it’s very difficult for (funding institutions) to believe you, if you go there empty-handed. At least have experience, but don’t go there with nothing.’
However, as luck would have it, the other classes were full, and he had to settle for agricultural studies. Eventually, he started liking it.
After completing his honours in agriculture in 2016, Jalisa did his internship at the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI). He resigned in 2017.
“I realised working for someone is not for me. Working for someone else you are guided to think a certain way. Sometimes I would come up with a strategy and my manager would say, no this is too big for the company or it is too small. So, I was like no, it’s time for me to leave,” Jalisa says.
Jay Jay Farming almost crippled by Eastern Cape tornado
Today, farming challenges continue to plague their business. Recently, Jalisa says mother nature showed them “flames”.
The deadly tornado that left a path of destruction in its wake in parts of the Eastern Cape in November, severely damaged Jay Jay Farming.
The tornado destroyed about 30 000 bunches of spinach, 220 000 cabbages and 40 000 butternuts that they had ready to be sent to markets.
However, “challenges always push me,” Jalisa states. “It gives me more energy to overcome a difficult period. After the storm we decided to also plant maize.” Not long after the destructive storm, they also received a massive donation of 200 000 cabbage seedlings.
However, with all these challenges, what keeps Jalisa going is his love for farming, having clear goals, and his family.
“We know where we are going, it does not matter how long it will take. Farming is not easy; you have to really love it. It requires active participation, and you need to work alongside your workers,” he says.