In Ganyesa, North West the 30-year-old Neo Leburu has been toiling passionately under the umbrella of agriculture. She has been a goat farmer for more than a decade now. However, despite her 14-year tenure, the co-owner of Tshimo Agribusiness and Projects, has not once been able to draw a salary for herself.
The farm income is spent on necessary overheads like truck expenses, insurance, fuel, and other costs of operating the farm. Leburu makes ends meet with a takeaway and catering hustle she runs on the side. She sells chicken wings, kotas and tripe dishes.
When asked by Food For Mzansi why she has stayed on this long in a sector that has not brought her much financial gain, she offers a simple answer.
“I love what I do, and I have faith that, just like the rest, I will reach my commercial dream too one day,” she says.
“Even if it means using my last money, I will not give up on agriculture because the sector has too much to offer for me to simply give up and walk away.”
It’s about love for the land
The committed farmer says the sector is not a get-rich-quick scheme and new entrants must do away with that kind of thinking. Farming is hard work and takes much investment.
“But don’t be discouraged,” Leburu quickly adds. “Agriculture has its rewards. My advice is to start correctly.”
Leburu’s entire agri journey has been based purely on her love for the land.
Her younger self envied other kids who would gloat about their days spent on family farms. So, when opportunity presented itself, she was quick to convince her mom, Rosy (57), that it was time to lace up their farming boots.
Leburu’s mom was gifted with a pregnant goat in 2006 by a family member. Rosy wanted to barter the animal, but her daughter would not have it.
Leburu persuaded her mom and at first the goats were kept in a relative’s backyard until they inherited Leburu’s grandfathers’ 70-hectare portion of land in 2013. The 70-hectare plot is where the Leburus now herd 42 goats.
Before immersing herself in the farm life, Leburu studied sound engineering at Boston College with the hopes of working as a radio personality. Her studies were funded with a loan her mom took out.
In her final year, her dreams of life behind a microphone were put on hold due to an unplanned pregnancy. She was forced to abandon her studies and her mom was left with a hefty student loan bill to pay. It became difficult to finance farm expenses.
After her daughter’s birth, Leburu made her way back to the concrete jungle of Johannesburg, where she found work as a receptionist. With a steady income, Leburu was now able to help with farming expenses. Her salary covered the salary of the herd boy, maintenance and inputs. And of course expenses for baby Tshimologo. It was difficult, but they managed quite well.
Many a time their resilience has been put to the test. Tshimo Agribusiness and Projects (named after her daughter), struggled with access to water. Currently, the duo fetch water from their home, an 8 km commute to the farm. This is done daily and is a very costly exercise.
“We don’t have proper fencing to shelter the goats. I’m supposed to buy a ram, but I can’t because the kraal is not divided correctly,” Leburu states.
Their biggest struggle, however, is purifying their genetic stock. Tshimo Agribusiness and Projects does not have a pure breed because of earlier cross breeding between boer and angora goats.
‘In Setswana they say, bopelo telele bo tsala Katlego. What it basically means is patience breeds success.’
“If I started with the right breed I would be in a better financial position because I’d be able to sell my goats at auctions.
“With the current breed, we’ll receive less than what was actually spent on raising them,” Leburu says.
Luckily, rescue is on the horizon thanks to a good Samaritan who farms with goats in Taung. The farmer has offered to help Leburu correct her breeding by lending her his boer goat ram for four months.
‘Do away with the mentality that women cannot farm’
Leburu tells Food For Mzansi that her attempts at getting access to mentorship has been “like mission impossible”. However, since recent media coverage on her business, people have been more forthcoming.
“I went door to door, asking farmers to mentor me, but no one showed genuine interest. That has all changed thanks to the media. Farmers are even asking me for advice, wanting to forge relationships,” she says.
When asked why she thinks people were reluctant to help her, Leburu candidly states that her only “sin” is being a woman.
“They say females are not meant to be farmers and that our livestock will never increase,” she says. “Men must honestly do away with the mentality that women can’t farm.”
“It’s one of the reasons why females are less likely to succeed compared to their male counterparts. It is often that which contributes to the setbacks we as women experience. It’s simple, we are not allowed the same opportunities.”
Patience is the name of the game
Despite her many challenges, Leburu continues to push and has plans to even venture into poultry farming. She has erected structures but says finance remains a challenge.
Reflecting on her journey, Leburu says agriculture has taught her patience. As someone who lacks this quality, she has learnt that patience is crucial in this field.
“In Setswana they say, bopelo telele bo tsala Katlego. What it basically means is patience breeds success,”
“I think I’m a prime example of that. It has taken the SA farming community a decade to notice me, but they eventually did and now they’re offering to help me. Young farmers, hold on because eventually it will happen,” Leburu declares.