When Seabi Maleka grew tired of building the agricultural visions of others with his skills and qualifications, it was not because he was self-centred. He simply wanted a shot at developing his own childhood dream. The dream of becoming a farmer.
Long before the 29-year-old’s agricultural desires were anything to take seriously, Maleka was just another young, curious boy helping his grandmother tend to her five-hectare vegetable garden.
Life was tough and the garden was how they survived, cultivating sorghum, maize and watermelon for the locals. His grandmother owned a few cattle as well – goats and sheep – but not that many.
“Growing up in Limpopo was a hard life,” Maleka says. “The food was scarce. We literally survived on whatever was in my grandmother’s garden.”
Being taught from a tender age how to plant and water seeds and cultivate them until it was time to harvest sparked a deep and sincere interest in farming within Maleka.
Discovering your own potential
When he got the opportunity to further his studies, he opted for agricultural science. This he studied and completed at the Potchefstroom college of agriculture in 2014. Later he completed his B-tech in crop science.
Since then, Maleka has worked for various farmers and agricultural business. But it was with his most recent job that Maleka decided that he had enough of working for others.
“I worked as an assistant manager on a 600-hectare farm in Bronkhorstspruit that started operating this year. There was nothing on the farm, absolutely nothing. It was just land, we developed everything from scratch and ended up supplying to Woolworths,” he says.
He believes that the job pushed him and he discovered just how much potential he had as a farmer.
“That project really revealed who I am. With my skills and knowledge, I realised that I was actually undermining myself,” he says.
Maleka admits that while there is nothing wrong with working for someone, he encourages agricultural graduates never to forget why they pursued their agri studies in the first place.
“For me the thing is, tomorrow your employer might decide that he or she no longer wants you, so what happens then? It’s better to be independent. Besides, who these days wants to work for someone else for the rest of their life?” he laughs.
‘The aim is to free myself from poverty.’
What took Maleka so long to start farming himself, he says, was money and access to land. However, when he finally got access to both, he resigned from his job and immediately started working on his long-delayed farming aspirations.
While privately consulting farmers as a side hustle, Maleka met a 65-year-old farmer who was underutilising his land. Also, the farmer seemed to struggle keeping his farm afloat.
After discussions, the two partnered and it is from his farm that Maleka runs a newly established poultry business. He also manages the cultivation of crops on the farm.
Building a business that stands the test of time
Maleka started the business by investing all his savings into buying inputs, feed and 500 broilers. He recently acquired an additional 1500.
He markets the produce and poultry to locals and neighbouring areas such as Potchefstroom and Springfontein.
“It’s not easy starting a business,” he exclaims. “My challenges include not having stable access to markets and also the farm does not have a proper irrigation system, although it has several boreholes.”
However, working with limited resources and money from his savings account is not enough to deter Maleka.
He now dreams of owning his own farm one day. For now, however, he is first working hard to make sure his business stands the test of time.
“The aim is to free myself from poverty. Considering my background and where I come from, agriculture is the way to do that. Everyone knows that by now, especially now with lockdown. It made a lot of people reconsider their careers,” he says.
Maleka encourages others who are interested in agriculture, to be prepared to work hard.
“It looks fancy when we are posting our picture online, but in reality it is not. It’s not easy and then sometimes you work late hours.
“In farming you need to have a big heart, because the environment can disappoint you. But don’t stop or give up, keep pushing,” he says.