Side hustle: E. Cape student now farms with laying hens

Simanye Sonkebe is a small scale farmer for Dutywa in the Eastern Cape with hopes of being a commercial farmer one day. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

Simanye Sonkebe is a small-scale farmer in Dutywa in the Eastern Cape with hopes of being a commercial farmer one day. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

When the University of Fort Hare had to suspend classes due to the Covid-19 lockdown rules last year, Simanye Sonkebe instinctively knew this was a chance to start his very own farming venture.

At the time, the 21-year-old was a second-year animal science student at the university’s Alice campus. Instead of just lazing around back home in Dutywa, about three hours away, he made a few clever decisions.

“I realised that we were not going back to school anytime soon. So, I saw it as a chance to start farming because I have always wanted to be a farmer and run a business of my own,” Sonkebe tells Food For Mzansi.

Farming lessons

Simanye Sonkebe wants to go back to vegetable farming when all his resources align. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

He excitedly started farming around June and his crops were growing really well. Four months later, however, he learnt his first tough farming lesson: His crops died due to a water shortage. This left him devastated and taking a break from farming.

“[In] March this year, I attempted to plant again. Fortunately, this time [around] water was available, but I had to go back to school and my mom could not take care of the vegetables alone, so they died again,” he states.

However, a true farmer makes a plan and by July he started exploring with chicken farming. Sonkebe says, “I have 48 layer chickens now, but I have not sold any eggs because I only started my business in July of this year. But by the end of November, I think my layers will be able to lay eggs.”

Sonkebe says he chose to farm with layer chickens because broilers need a lot of attention. Since he is back at university to finish his degree, he doesn’t think his mom will be able to take care of them.

His mother also has a passion for farming, though. She farms with sheep and goats, and Sonkebe is grateful that she has been able to help at the times when he really couldn’t juggle all the farming balls.

“I send my mother money to buy feed each month and when I come back home, I take over and give her a break,” he says.

Simanye Sonkebe grew up wanting to become a vet because he has always loved animals and always cared about their well-being. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

What about his qualification?

Even though Sonkebe is studying animal science, he currently has no plans to pursue it.

“I actually want to pursue farming as a full-time career. But if I need capital to pursue my dream, I will get a job as an animal scientist just to make money and once I have accumulated enough capital, I will go back to farming.”

Sonkebe says he chose animal science because he did not qualify to go to veterinary school.

“As a young boy I always wanted to be a vet because I loved animals. I always cared about their well-being and was always curious as to how I could improve their health. But I didn’t get accepted for the course.”

Future goals?

In ten to 15 years’ time, Sonkebe wants to become a commercial-scale farmer. His parents farmed on a smaller scale, and he is hoping to use the many lessons learnt over the years to grow even bigger than them.

He faces many challenges, though.

“Drought has been my biggest challenge. Lack of equipment is also a challenge because at home I can utilise three hectares of land, but I can’t [do that] because I don’t have a tractor and the cows that we have can’t plough the land because of drought.

“The other challenge is that I can dedicate all my time to farming because I have school to attend, which makes things very difficult. And finding a market in my village is also difficult because the villages are far apart and people also farm their own chicken and vegetables, so there is competition.”

In the future, Simanye Sonkebe hopes to be a commercial farmer in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

Looking to the future

That being said, his passion and love for farming keeps him going. “I love farming and I realised that even though the majority of the people are farming for themselves, there are those who aren’t farming who will need me to sell them my produce.

“Secondly, I am not that far from town so I can sell my produce in town. Fortunately, I also have clients on social media that I sell to, so that keeps my business running.”

His advice to other aspiring farmers is not to think of agriculture as a sector for “old and rich people”. Take baby steps, he says.

“They should start small and persevere because farming is not easy. They must also be able to communicate with other farmers because if they can’t communicate and ask for help or advice from farmers with more experience, their businesses won’t succeed.”

ALSO READ: R350 Covid-19 grant got mixed farmer back on her feet

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