Anele Mtshemla and Thabisa Moleshe from Wild Coast Foods are currently in Dubai for the Polish-African Business Forum, an international business event organised as part of Poland’s economic programme at the World Exposition Expo 2020 Dubai. Gerda-Marié van Rooyen reports.
“We keep pressing on and moving forward,” explains Thabisa Moleshe, chief operational officer of Wild Coast Foods, on how they deal with challenges in uncertain times. She believes, “Businesses will always face challenges, but you’ve got to navigate your way around them.”
Moleshe and chief executive Anele Mtshemla are the co-founders of this food and beverage manufacturing company.
Both come from farming families in the Eastern Cape. Moleshe’s father was mainly a cattle farmer in Alice, but he also owned a fruit and vegetables store where, at an early age, Moleshe frequently spent time behind the register during school holidays.
Mtshemla is the great grandson of a large-scale commercial farmer. At Wild Coast Foods, he brings 23 years of management consulting background to the table while Moleshe has over 20 years of multidisciplinary corporate experience.
Although the Eastern Cape faces several challenges like underdeveloped infrastructure, this business duo sees it as an opportunity rather than a setback.
Mtshemla explains that the rural Eastern Cape areas are not very well developed, but there is immense potential and prospects to provide growth opportunities to the marginalised smallholder farmers and agripreneurs, especially youth and women.
A province with great potential
He believes the Eastern Cape has the necessary resources to catalyse this growth, not only in human capital, but also in water and land availability, specifically in the eastern parts of the Eastern Cape where Wild Coast Foods will be initiating its projects.
The agriculture sector has opportunities for both skilled and unskilled workers as it is a labour-intensive sector, so it offers the possibility for mass employment in an economically depressed area, adds Mtshemla.
He explains further that Wild Coast Foods is an integrated value chain-based agribusiness providing agriculture aggregation services to smallholder farmers and in the future will provide agroprocessing services.
They support farmers with access to markets, funding and agriculture technical support services.
The company is investing in the establishment of a fruit and vegetable processing facility at the planned Wild Coast Industrial Park in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.
Things at the Wild Coast Industrial Park, led by the implementing agent, the Coega Development Corporation, has gained momentum recently. “Six investors have been secured, perimeter fencing and bulk infrastructure development has begun and national government has put their weight behind the project,” says Mtshemla.
Wild Coast Foods aims to implement their business strategy in four phases over the next six years, which include establishing cold chain logistics to serve local retailers, fresh produce markets and quick-service restaurants with fresh and processed produce. Moleshe places a strong emphasis on sustainability.
They handle everything from “… farming operations, post-harvest handling, storage, and ultimate supply to our clients places emphasis on good agricultural practices [to] food safety standards.”
The power of change
Moleshe, who has sourced farms to collaborate in the project herself, is evidently excited and believes one person can change the world. “If one person plants a tree, one life can be changed. I love seeing people’s lives being transformed and conceptualising a different reality for them.”
Proving that agripreneurs are always at work and having their eyes open at emerging opportunities, Mtshemla says his guilty pleasure is listening to politicians. “I think at times they have sensible and even great ideas but struggle to implement their ideas. Wild Coast Foods can be a partner to implement these dreams.”
Since the Eastern Cape is rich in biodiversity, Mtshemla is sure this province offers huge potential. “We can even offer crops for international markets where out of season commodities are in high demand. Parts of the Eastern Cape can grow many of these all year-round.”
Moleshe furthermore says strategic thinking comes naturally for Mtshemla, whose key objective is ensuring people in rural communities are lifted out of poverty and supported to change their future by benefiting from the soil they live on.
Both partners say they have a good working relationship and support each other even if they might not agree on every matter. “I trust his opinion. We challenge each other’s inputs; ensure we communicate clearly and address disagreements quickly.”
These go-getters are open to the advice of experts and their partners. “We need to lean on each other. We have a good, capable team consisting of partners to help with different aspects of the business. It is critical to have an extended and diverse support base to help (the project succeed).”
- The Polish-African Business Forum ends on Wednesday, 30 March in Dubai. Today, Mtshemla will participate in a panel discussion about Africa’s food value chain evolution and plans to engage with potential investors and suppliers. “The Polish have advanced and modern-line machines for food processing,” explains Moleshe. “We’ll also be exploring new export market opportunities.”
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