Phiwokuhle Shabangu pursued a career in the entertainment industry. But when Covid-19 hit and work dried up, this #SoilSista explored the possibilities of farming, and never looked back. Shabangu is one of the inspiring women selected for the Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Shabangu grew up in the heart of Sandton, in a business-savvy family. During high school, her grandfather always asked her to write business plans. Even though Shabangu expresses that it was “annoying” to write out business plans as a teenager, today she acknowledges the value of her grandfather’s teaching methods.
“My grandfather was a businessman and a farmer. So, he’d always have new ideas and methods of rearing chickens that he’d want me to pen down. I am looking for his diaries today because I am curious to see the ideas he had and what has changed,” she reflects.
In 2002, after Shabangu matriculated, she took a gap year. A year later, in 2004, she decided to study BCom financial management at Unisa.
In 2006 she started working full-time in the entertainment business while completing her final year of studies.
“When I started working, I joined a company that was doing artist and events management. I worked in that business for about four years, and in 2010 I decided to resign and start my own business,” she says.
Shabangu started her own business called Hotsauce Productions within the entertainment industry. She loved it with a passion but due to Covid-19, Hotsauce suffered because of the national lockdown.
Building a new business
In 2019, her aunt who has been in the poultry business for years, encouraged her to look at farming as a potential business venture. However, Shabangu had no interest in farming then.
“My aunt has been doing poultry farming for over 16 years and she had contracts with Rainbow Chickens, Astral and Daybreak. She had been trying to convince me to get into the business. But I was more into the entertainment business and told my aunt we can revisit the idea at a later stage.”
Not too long after their initial conversation, her aunt heard about someone who was selling their farm and she wanted Shabangu to see the potential of farming as a business.
“My aunt came back to me and said a lady is selling her farm and it’s time for me to get into the business. So, we checked it out and that’s when my husband and I decided it’s something worth looking into,” she says.
“We were very intentional when we bought the farm; to commercialise in chickens based on the Daybreak Farm’s transformation drive that they were embarking on.”
Never looking back
She explains that while they were waiting for approval for the environmental impact assessment, they decided to plant vegetables such as spinach, cabbages, and beetroot. But the first produce wasn’t that great.
“In September 2020, we then decided to plant again. After having treated the land, we just planted spinach, and in October/November our spinach was ready to go to the market.”
Eventually, she found a supplier that works with Boxer. The supplier loved the spinach, and she sold out on the vegetable.
The land is currently barren and being prepared to grow gherkins.
“In my mission to find a market, I was fortunate to be in contact with the Rhodes Food Group, and they wanted gherkins. I was like ‘okay, gherkins are what you will get’,” she says.
Shabangu also created a chicken coop in 2020 where she started with 1 500 chickens and has since expanded.
Learning to thrive amid the challenges
One of the important elements that Shabangu emphasises is knowledge, because when she started, she built her coop in the wrong direction a lot of chickens died.
“We decided to build two more houses in the right direction after that. We started with 1 500 birds and were sitting with a capacity of about 20 000 between December 2020 and August 2021.”
According to Shabangu, she took the initiative to become educated and involved to learn as much as she could about the business, and the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2022 played a huge role in that, together with her current MBA studies.
Shabangu expresses her gratitude towards the programme that helped her learn and grow. She also mentions Lebogang Mokwene, who is one of the fantastic ladies she met in 2019 and later in the programme.
“We eventually got a contract with Astral Foods to provide them with chickens. We are currently in the process of a blended finance application because we need to build more houses on the plot. Lebogang Mokwene, who has been in the business for years, has recently been through the same application process and helped me with parts of mine,” says Shabangu.
She also expressed her gratitude towards Ngwanarachuene Mampane for sharing her expertise with her to help with the environmental, health and safety part of the application. Meeting women in the industry who are willing to help has been the greatest blessing for her.
“For me, the networking part has been the greatest part of it all, and the content for learning,” she says.
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