One morning, 32-year-old Prudence Mokwena, a microbiologist at a fast-moving consumer goods company, was going about her usual business when she stumbled upon a research article on the internet.
It stated that South Africa’s chicken production levels were so low that the country needed to import chicken. The article said most consumers did not like the imports, describing the foreign chicken products as “fatty and tasteless.”
Mokwena realised that there was a gap in the market and decided to start her own broiler production business. RBKM was registered in 2016 to increase the supplies of home-grown broilers “that are loved and can be afforded by everyone in the country,” she says.
In the meantime, she was still working full-time as a microbiologist, as she continues to do today. This almost didn’t happen, but Mokwena decided to repeat matric to get her marks up for university acceptance.
“I was born and raised in Soshanguve (north of Pretoria) and my family life was tough. I lost both my parents at a young age. First my father passed away in a car accident, then my mother died of cancer.”
Mokwena says that after her parents passed away life was not the same, but she persevered. After moving from school to school and between Pretoria and Polokwane, she finished matric in 2007.
Her low marks excluded her from studying biotechnology, as she had wanted to. She enrolled for a one-year contact centre management course at the Tshwane University of Technology instead, while repeating grade 12 part-time.
In 2009 she finally got to enrol for biotechnology at the Tshwane University of Technology and graduated in May 2012. In December 2015 she completed her B-tech in Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Her focus and determination stood her in good stead after starting RBKM as a side-hustle. A few months into the business the challenges became apparent.
“I did not know much about operating a production house, so I decided to enrol for a business administration course at Tshwane University of Technology in 2018 to better run my business,” she says.
She completed the course a year later and officially registered her business that same year.
Mokwena’s 42-hectare farm is located in Winterveld in the North West province and she has six chicken houses on the farm.
“Each chicken house accommodates approximately 200-250 chickens,” she says. RBKM produces an estimated of 1200 broilers per cycle with the help of two workers.
These farmworkers are responsible for the welfare of chickens, providing feed and water and cleaning the houses. They also assist with transport and fix the equipment on the poultry farm, she adds.
Mokwena’s broiler production company is involved in raising, processing and marketing live broilers. The slaughtered ones are then packaged, labelled with a company logo, priced and sold to potential buyers or bulk buyers.
Mokwena also supplies her chickens to two restaurants in Winterveld and to different households in the area. She says her biggest challenge was market access.
“I started selling chickens to my colleagues at work and I would also dress nicely and go sell my frozen chickens in the streets. I used WhatsApp to get customers and I even came up with a creative, cost effective marketing technique with a high return on investment to add to my current marketing strategy,” she says.
Her big marketing idea was using colourful, attractive, reusable and eco-friendly promotional bags. “These eco-friendly bags are boosting the brand awareness and people love them because they are not a threat to the environment,” she says.
The bags have proven popular as they can be used for groceries and for storing heavy items.
As owner of the businesses, Mokwena is in charge of overseeing the documentation, accounting, costing and sale of poultry farm produce. She also represents the company’s interest at various stakeholder meetings and also handles business research, market surveys and feasibility studies for her clients.
She says that her future goal is to see RBKM chickens as one of the leading chicken production farms that supplies high quality chickens to all big grocery stores.
Her advice to upcoming farmers is that they should have a definite plan supported by specialised knowledge, and a burning desire to succeed.
“These ingredients definitely lead to a successful business,” she says.