A farmer’s work is definitely not child’s play and Sizo Tshabalala’s story is a testament to that. It took guts and perseverance for the 31-year-old to keep going, despite many setbacks and many mistakes.
Although Tshabalala, from Elukwatini in Mpumalanga, proved his naysayers wrong when he started farming six years ago, his failed attempts and the tough lessons learnt did not come cheap.
In 2010, after he matriculated from Takheni Secondary School in Elukwatini, Tshabalala completed a diploma in animal production at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
Tshabalala says his decision to farm did not sit well with his mother, Smangele, especially because his four siblings pursued careers in technology and journalism. “It’s mostly because my mother grew up in a time where they were taught that being employed by someone is the way to go. All of my siblings had jobs and when I decided to farm it was a disaster for her,” he adds.
His chosen career took an even greater toll on his parents since they also had to pay for his tertiary studies. “Seeing me come home dirty, my mother did not associate it with money making or with any success.”
During his animal production course at TUT, Tshabalala completed his practical training at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), followed by a two-year internship at the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture.
“I majored in poultry production, including artificial insemination, hatchery and pig production. I finished my internship at the Department of Agriculture in the animal production section giving advice to farmers.”
At the end of the internship, Tshabalala had saved enough money to buy a piece of land to start farming in Elukwatini in 2013. He refused all the job applications his parents flooded him with to follow his farming dream.
“It taught me a great deal about patience – in myself and in my goals.” – Sizo Tshabalala
Tshabalala finally had the chance to put his farming skills to the test when his parents bought his first six calves. He applied all his knowledge from vaccination to dipping the animals and two years later, he convinced his older brother, Sfiso to purchase 41 pure bred boer goats (a breed of goats that can withstand hot and dry conditions and was developed in South Africa) to expand his farming operations.
In 2015, Tshabalala’s farming aspirations turned into a nightmare. His money was drying up and because his cows were still young, they were not able to mate and multiply. At this point he was spending money taking care of the animals without any financial gain.
Disappointed, but still proud of the lesson learnt, Tshabalala says he soon realised that he did not understand what his purpose was with the calves. “We bought the calves when they were still young, and it took three to four years for them to give birth. In the fourth year I ran out of money and realised that when you start a production you must have a goal,” he adds.
Looking back, the now more experienced Tshabalala says he would have bought pregnant cows, but he was instead forced to sell them when he ran into more challenges on his farm.
In 2016 his luck seemed to turn when his goats fell pregnant, but 39 of the 43 pregnant goats miscarried and the rest of the kids, who were healthy at birth, were stolen.
Tshabalala was undeterred. “I waited for a second season and hired a herdsman to take care of my goats, when I was involved in the Sasol I-AM-PRENEUR incubator programme. While I was busy with the programme the goats gave birth but when I got to the farm, I discovered that my herdsman took up another job,” Tshabalala says.
Many of his new-born goats passed away and when the third season came Tshabalala took his financial and emotional well-being into account and decided to sell all the goats he had left.
To keep his farming dream alive, Tshabalala decided to partner with his childhood friend Musawenkosi Madlopha, who also studied animal production. They decided to invest in layer production and started off with 50 chickens, which has since grown to over a thousand. On their 8 hectares of communal land in Elukwatini, Tshabalala and Madlopha also started farming with corn two years ago.
Despite his many setbacks Tshabalala is heading in the right direction. He says he focused too much on the less important things, which distracted him from his end goal. Reflecting on his many trials and errors, Tshabalala adds, “it taught me a great deal about patience – in myself and in my goals.”