Every day, for more than a decade, Prudence Mokwena, a microbiologist at Nestlé, has analysed raw ingredients and finished products to ensure they are safe for public consumption.
It is important work, but the repetitive nature of her job bothered her. After several years of the same thing, she eventually settled into a groove where very little about her job surprised her.
As a natural strategist, Mokwena did research on what would make her feel alive again. Her research led her to poultry and problems that she could help solve, all while creating a generational legacy for her three children.
Solving an industry problem
Mokwena started her company, Relebogile Bokamoso ba Makwena Chickens (RKBM Chickens), in 2020. It is also the names of her three children.
“Being a microbiologist for more than 12 years without any promotion is what motivated me to get into agriculture.
“I did research about biotechnology since it was my first qualification. This course is broad and it allowed me to think of day-old chicks and how they evolve to a point of producing eggs and ultimately being a full chicken available for sale. I got intrigued,” she says.
To add to her interest in agriculture, Mokwena got even more hooked on farming following research on low chicken production in South Africa which she was involved in.
Unlocking her potential
“I asked myself why should society be consuming broiler chickens that are produced in neighbouring countries? After this, I then decided that I should start a business to increase the supplies of home-grown broilers that are loved and afforded by everyone.
“I used my experience, purpose and creativity to unlock my potential, and I gave myself permission to explore and see where it goes,” she says.
Mokwena adds that she learned baby steps are important when starting a farming operation. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. Problem-solving and unknown intriguing opportunities would get to me every day and I second-guessed myself every step while others relied on me.
“I learned that your passion attracts the right customers and employees and it gives you the motivation to deliver on your mission. As a farmer, you need passion to succeed.”
Taking the opportunity
While the economic outlook and operating a farming business in South Africa becomes tougher by the day, Mokwena says she focuses on opportunities that present themselves to her because people need to eat.
“This hiccup helped me to become an excellent salesperson and have vast informal networks through which I sell live chickens to resellers and different households.
“The current electricity crisis is another hiccup but also an opportunity for a young woman as a farmer who is not as reliant on electricity as the larger producers and retailers.
“By combining my farming skills and experience, I will not only survive this storm but thrive in it too,” she explains.
What the future holds
A wife and mother of three, Mokwena says her family is her pillar of strength that keeps her going even when the going gets tough.
“My focus is on the current and future and I believe the steps that I have taken are benefitting and empowering the community. I would like to see my business, RBKM Chickens, producing 15 000 to 20 000 broiler chickens.”
She says the plan is to quit and focus fully on farming once all has been settled.
Mokwena believes more work needs to be done by the government to improve agriculture’s image, strengthen higher education institutions on agriculture subjects, and facilitate access to land.
“I think it is important that with the rise of social media, it needs to be linked to agriculture to attract young people. Access to the appropriate technologies could be a way to get more young people interested.
“Greater awareness of the benefits of agriculture as a career needs to be built among young people. Relatively few students choose to study agriculture, so teaching materials should be linked to advances in technology and innovation,” she says.
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