Alisha Kalicharan took a huge risk when she jumped into the agriculture sector. The risk is now starting to pay off. Powered by Corteva Agriscience, we’re highlighting some of the extraordinary female farmers participating in Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
When Alisha Kalicharan and her husband Vishaal both lost their jobs in 2018, they decided to bet all their resources on their dream venture – a farm. Three years and many obstacles later, their poultry business, ADK Poultry, is starting to thrive.
Before Kalicharan (39) became a dedicated poultry farmer, she was a chef by profession. Her career in hospitality led her out of the kitchen and into the office, where she learnt to manage budgets and sharpened her overall business skills. These are the skills she now wields to help get her Gauteng-based poultry farm off the ground.
“We combined the best of what we both know. He [Vishaal] was in chickens all his life and I can manage the finance side of things and running the business. We took the combination of what we both knew best, used it to our advantage and decided to go into business on our own farm.”
Kalicharan says that their farm was supposed to be a retirement of sorts. They rented the farm, based in Magaliesburg in Gauteng, while they were still employed. “At the time we lost our jobs, it was a case of ‘do we find other jobs, or do we take the risk?’ These plans were already in motion, but we wanted to start while we were both working, then build it slowly. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way.”
Like all other business ventures, launching a farming operation costs money, money the Kalicharans did not have.
“At the time, neither of us had any kind of money. There were very minimal savings. We literally went in on a hope and a prayer. I thought if this is what I am meant to do, the universe and God will make a plan’’.”
Commercial banks were not an option for her, as they only fund up to 70% of business. This pushed Kalicharan and her husband towards the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa, otherwise known as the Land Bank. Their application took over a year to be approved. In that year, she baked biscuits to help them survive.
“My husband became a biscuit assistant. He learnt how to decorate biscuits, because we were selling biscuits in bulk,” she says, laughing.
Taken in by an unscrupulous contractor
When she finally received the funding from the Land Bank, the Kalicharans suffered a serious setback. The contractor she hired to build the chicken houses “ducked and ran” with the deposit of R1.5 million that she paid him. “He left and we had to take legal action against him to try and get back some of that money.”
They were only ever able to retrieve R25 0 000 of the amount paid to him. Luckily for her there was loads of material on site for the building of the coups. Ironically, the new contractor she hired was someone she met through the old one. He empathised with her situation and offered his help.
“When we told him what happened, he said ‘Listen, I’m going to come and I’m going to help you. Let’s see what we can do’. And that started the long journey of getting the chicken houses built. We finally got into operation on the 29 July 2020, a day I would never forget.”
She draws inspiration from the can-do attitude of farmers around her, and is impressed with their positive, solutions-based thinking.
Kalicharan says that, while farming is a very male-dominated sector, working as a woman in farming has not really presented any additional challenges for her. She works in tandem with her husband, and between the two of them, they keep their business fairly balanced.
“A lot of the times I count myself blessed that I have a male counterpart that I trust and that has my best interest at heart. We basically bounce off against each other. In our commercial space, there are people who would rather deal with me, and some would rather deal with him.”
She lists the challenge of further funding as her biggest issue in the sector. “Commercial banks will help you, provided you have a certain percentage [of money], and that percentage is quite big. With government funding, the process is slow. I have had people who said to me that I was lucky to be approved after a year. Many people don’t hear from them [Land Bank], or it takes three or four years to be approved.”
A passion for farming
For Kalicharan, the warmth and sense of community within her region made her love farming even more. She draws inspiration from the can-do attitude of farmers around her, and is impressed with their positive, solutions-based thinking.
“When I moved into the farming space, that’s the thing that took me most by surprise. Working in hospitality, you are exposed to the worst of people. You lose all faith in people. But we moved into a full-on farming community. There are all types of farmers, and everyone looks at you as a farmer first.”
Kalicharan says that her biggest regret is not having the courage to go into farming earlier.
Alisha Kalicharan’s advice for women who start farming:
Always be thirsty for knowledge: “I came from a completely different space, but compared to a year and a half ago, I understand more technical things about running the business. You learn on the job.”
Go for it!: “As women in business and farming, we have the natural traits of patience, organisation and perseverance. Those are all the things you need for going into agriculture. You’re going to need to persevere against all the adversity. I had so many things thrown at me in that first year. But life happens. It’s how you deal with it that makes who you are. Just go for it.”