All the odds were against Lebogang Mashigo when she started farming in 2019. She was a single mother. Her bank balance stood on R350 and the immense financial strain was beginning to take its toll on her health.
Then, a year later, she heard about a Covid-19 relief competition on a local radio station. This gave her a much-needed boost after she entered and won a R20 000 cash prize – just enough to expand her agribusiness.
Looking back Mashigo, from Kwaggafontein in Mpumalanga, knows that the many failures were needed to make her stronger and wiser.
“[In 2019] I sourced eggs from a bigger farm,” she tells Food For Mzansi. “I had to raise money for the operational costs myself. I was single with a new-born baby, and I was battling depression and post-natal stress.”
Mashigo’s company, Eggsellent, currently employs one full-time and another part-time employee. “I sell my eggs to direct customers in my community like households, restaurants, confectionery businesses, guest houses and resellers,” she said.
Farming came with its own challenges.
“I struggled with feed suppliers and high feed prices. Market access was another challenge. Since I didn’t study agriculture, I also had to go the extra mile to learn and at times it has cost me a lot to self-train.”
Luckily, every round went higher and higher for Mashigo. “I started to keep 20 laying [hens]. Then we grew to 100. Then 400 and more. The fact that no one else was doing what I am doing in my community, that motivated me.”
Being a woman farmer in her neck of the woods came with its own challenges, she adds. “The industry is still male dominated and there are areas that are not even covered. So yes, there’s room for young women to start and grow sustainable businesses in agriculture.”
Farming changes lives
“I started a business to keep myself busy, but today I have people relying on this very same hobby I had for their livelihoods and to support their families. My story was shared on my platforms and it has been an inspiration to many who have taken me as a case study to pursue their business journeys,” she said.
Yet, she pushed forward, bravely learning from her many mistakes.
“I have seen many ups and downs. I have suffered many financial blows. I have made many right moves in wrong seasons and that has caused me a lot of loss, both in resources and time. I have lost livestock due to unforeseen conditions and to negligence at times.”
Though Mashigo does not have a farming mentor, she credits the support of many others who encouraged her to keep on pushing and to continue giving her best amid tough conditions and challenges. “I have a business coach but he’s not in agriculture. He is more of a strategic partner who has been helping me to make strategic plans to grow my business.”
Having an entrepreneurship and business management qualification, Mashigo puts what she has learned into practice. She describes herself as a self-trained farmer who learns from her failures, a trait that has been good for business.
A future-focused farmer
Looking to the future, the beginner farmer dreams of having more employees and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the industry. According to her estimates she needs about R2 million to reach the optimal operational level.
Those who dream about farming should be prepared for the tough times, Mashigo says.
“In business you do not win the first day you start. You build for the long term. And my plea to others is, do not venture into something because you know someone who is doing it. Have love for it. Get your hands dirty. Learn as much as possible. The point is [to] start.”
The road ahead is uncertain, but she remains optimistic.
“I have not arrived. I am far from it. I know that it is going to take dedication, hard work, discipline, creativity and a lot of commitment and strategy to realise the dream. Surround yourself with good people and be a good person yourself.”