Chube Mothapo always knew she was going to be a farmer. She is one of the extraordinary women selected for the Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Hailing from Limpopo, Mothapo’s passion for farming was ignited early in her university journey. She obtained a farming degree from the University of Limpopo, and went on to obtain an honours degree in agriculture, specialising in agricultural economics, from the University of Pretoria.
For many years, Mothapo worked as a banker where her primary client base was made up of mostly farmers. This was a constant reminder for her to not give up on her farming dream.
“I knew when I completed my first degree, that one day I am going to go and farm, and I will not farm with crop. I will farm with livestock. I didn’t know exactly which livestock, but I knew that I loved working with animals.”
Mothapo’s passion for farming never tempered, which is why, around 2017, she started saving money and putting in plans to start her agricultural business.
“It’s something that has been burning in me for all these years that I was in corporate, but obviously, there are other things that happened. Marriage, children, etc. But this passion was just always at the back of my mind, that [I] have to go into farming.”
A long but well-planned journey into farming
Right now, Mothapo farms with 70 sows, a number she says will increase to 100 by the end of the year. When she first opened her business, she was adament that she will not take out a loan to get things started. This is why she saved for years before the actual launch of the business.
Like many people, Mothapo started her business during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, but unlike for others, the pandemic did not serve as motivation for her to change her life. Instead, it created the perfect opportunity for her to start her farming operation.
“This decision to go in into farming didn’t start in 2020, it started five years prior to that when I started saving towards primary infrastructure. In 2020, when Covid-19 kept us on lockdown, agriculture was one of the industries that could trade. So I took advantage of that and started the business in my spare time. For me, the pandemic was an opportunity to step out from where I was for so many years to say, ‘Now I have time to start this thing that I’ve always wanted to do’.”
Joining the Corteva Women Agripreneur 2022 programme is also part of Mothapo’s farming journey. She says that the programme is the ideal opportunity to network, and that it is also ideal for learning entrepreneurship skills.
“Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and challenging, so I wanted to be around people who are in the same industry with me, to share knowledge and inspire and encourage one another.”
Navigating the challenges of a farm
Access to land has not necessarily been an issue for Mothapo. She is currently farming on leased land while slowly developing a familiy-owned property that she will eventually move to.
“There was a guy who was selling his production, together with a property, that we could lease. So, we saw it as an opportunity to buy the livestock there and to grow while we were developing our own property.”
Mothapo explains that she looks forward to using her current rent to reinvest in her own farm.
“At the family farm, we have put up solar energy so we will be off the grid. That’s going to save us a lot of money. And if we were to get a loan to construct pig houses at our farm, we will use that rental amount towards the repayment of the loan for the asset that actually belongs to us.”
Right now, Mothapo is running the farm full-time, something she started doing in May 2021. Prior to her full-time involvement, the farm was run by a farm manager, who was responsible for managing the day-to-day activity on the farm.
“We had a manager who was running the business, but I realised that with me being absent, production was slow. We also struggled with a high mortality rate. And, because I had already decided to pursue my farming dream, I knew then that I had to go and manage things on my own.”
Mothapo finds that production has increased substantially since she took over full-time, as she was able to monitor it much more closely. To improve her knowledge, she attends local study groups and receives technical support from institutions like the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO), government extension officers, and the Pig Improvement Company (PIC).
“I understand the business better now because I’m here full-time. I think one of the things that I realised was that when I wasn’t here, we made a lot of mistakes like missing production cycles and keeping poor records. We were feeding the pigs, however, we were not productive to the level that we should have been.”
A growing business
Despite the difficulties, Mothapo says the business has definitely grown. When the business was started in 2020, it was funded entirely out of her pocket. Now most of the business expenses is covered by the business, something that encourages and keeps her motivated.
“Where I am now, the business funds most of the expenses. That keeps me going. I didn’t have record keeping in the past when we started, and I didn’t understand much about this business. But with me involved there every day, I can now tell you everything about that business with my eyes closed. So, every day, there’s growth, there’s progress and I choose to focus on all those things to keep me going.”
Another source of motivation for Mothapo is her plans to grow her business to the point where she is able to give back to the agricultural community. She says that, even in the short time she has been farming, she has learnt a lot from experienced farming neighbours who are generous with information.
“I would like to share knowledge and encourage other people, especially women and youth, to go into farming. [I want to] share my skills because I think piggery I think piggery is one business that can grow fast. For example, a sow can give a minimum of 10 – 12 piglets twice a year. So, you just need to know how to manage it and run it profitably.”
As someone who is relatively new to the business herself, she understands how important mentorship and support from other farmers are. This is why she also allows agricultural students to come to her farm to learn more about the intricacies of farming firsthand.
“I think it is very important as new entrants to collaborate with other farmers in order to make it in this industry. With collaboration we can even acquire off-take agreements, and get better prices for our produce.”
Mothapo says that, like any other journey, farming will require hard work and investment in order to achieve success. She explains that the first ingredient to a successful farming career is passion.
“Farming is very difficult. It requires patience and resilience. It requires self-motivation, but it, most importantly, requires that you love what you do.”
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