With a little bit of creativity, social media savvy, and a can-do spirit, anything is possible. The 27-year-old Cape Town agripreneur Ncumisa Mkabile has proven this, starting a small-scale farming business during the covid-19 lockdown which has gained her national attention.
Armed with social media savvy, lush spinach, and a can-do spirit, the Khayelitsha-based agripreneur sold our over 1000 bunches of spinach with one goal in mind: “To feed the nation, one spinach at a time.”
Mkabile used the power of social media to market her agri-business and draw in new clientele, and her strategy worked. Her story has attracted widespread attention that has opened even more doors for her fledgeling business.
Born in Cofimvaba, in the Eastern Cape, Mkabile is a travel and tourism graduate who started farming in March when covid-19 lockdown regulations were introduced. She used to sell takeaways, but had to shut the business down because the lockdown limited her trade.
“I planted, I prayed, and now it’s time to harvest.”
This put her business savvy to the test. Looking around for new opportunities, she saw that there was a market for selling chickens in her community. She went for it, and Mamcube Homegrown Chicken was born.
“I started in March, I was selling on the street and doing door-to-door deliveries.
“When I saw that the demand was high for chicken, I decided to farm chicken and supply to people who would like to start their own businesses, while still doing my deliveries,” she says.
This was not enough for Mkabile. She decided to start farming crops on three hectares of nearby land. After initially planning to start off with crop farming by growing green peppers in summer, she realized that she could also use the winter season to her advantage.
“So, I went on the internet, and I saw that I can actually plant spinach, which is a winter crop, and cabbage. I saw that spinach is easy to maintain and can survive any weather conditions. That is where my journey started!” says Mkabile enthusiastically.
As a travel and tourism graduate, Mkabile did not know much about farming. “I do not have anyone who actually mentors, guides, or coaches me. I teach myself,” she says. Much of the knowledge about farming she got from the internet.
On 20 May 2020 she planted the first seedlings, she recalls proudly. Two months later, on 18 July, she proudly posted on Facebook: “I planted, I prayed, and now it’s time to harvest.”
Following this social media post, people have shown support, and she sold out 1000 bunches of spinach. “The support I got from people was and still is overwhelming,” she says. She is still taken aback at the media coverage that she is also getting.
Doors start opening
The local Spar at the Khayelitsha Mall took note and Mkabile will now be supplying them with her nutritious produce.
“My dream is to get a bigger farm so that I can farm commercially and supply spinach all over South Africa and other countries, while creating employment opportunities for people,” she says.
Land ownership and access to land remain a contested and sensitive conversation in South Africa. Mkabile says that she is currently farming on leased land that does not allow for her to expand her business. Her farming land is locked between shacks in Khayelitsha, where poverty is rife, and informal housing limits her expansion.
You need to start small, start with what you have, and gradually grow
One of the main challenges that Mkabile faces is that her business does not have a working irrigation system, and she is using watering cans to water her crops. Owning bigger land and expanding her farm would enable her to solve some of these challenges, she believes.
However, the limitations of the land she is farming on have also had some advantages, as the community-driven farmer points out. “It has positively affected my community, because at the moment I have seven people working at the farm.”
While her heart is in her community, her ambitions go much further. “My dream is to be a commercial farmer, because I do not want to limit myself. I want to be able to produce high-quality fresh fruit and veggies to supply all over South Africa and ultimately export globally, while creating job opportunities at the same time.”
For Mkabile, her family is everything, and she attributes her work ethic and passion to them. “Whatever I am doing now, I am leaving a legacy for them, so an agriculture inheritance will come from me”.
Mkabile’s efforts attracted the attention of the Khayelitsha Business Forum (KBF). They took note of her tenacity and partnered with her to motivate others alike.
KBF secretary, Thobela Gubudela, says, “We are in partnership with her to expand the scope of farming in Khayelitsha. She inspires a lot of people, both young and old, showing them how to do it for themselves and their communities.”
She also entered a five-year agreement with Group 500 Investments, a company aimed at developing women-owned entities.
While unemployment, especially of the youth, is rife in informal and rural communities, Mkabile encourages young people not to give up. “You need to start small, start with what you have, and gradually grow,” she motivates.