For five years, Yamkela Mboko struggled to find work despite having a degree in agricultural management. Year after year, she pleaded with God and her ancestors to give her an opportunity. Then, just when she was about to give up on her dream a miracle happened.
Mboko (29) discovered the power of social media which, in turn, led her to crop farming. Today, she realises that she actually took her first steps in agriculture in Qumbu, the Eastern Cape town where she grew up in the village of Emakhaladini.
Like many others in her village, Mboko had big dreams of getting an education that would lead to a better life. In 2011, she was enrolled at Nelson Mandela University where she first obtained a national diploma and three years later a B.Tech. degree.
Despite her qualifications, the road ahead was much more difficult than Mboko anticipated. She tells Food For Mzansi, “After having graduated I looked for an internship. I was then fortunate enough to have been employed at an exporting company [on a six-month contract. Thereafter, I was] in and out of short contracts. This lasted for five years without permanent employment.”
With a new-born baby daughter, Mboko describes this as the most uncertain period of her life. “A very depressing period, especially when I knew I only have one month left for my [contractual] period to end. I felt humiliated and even ashamed to call myself a graduate because when [it ended] I would have to go queue for long hours at the labour department for UIF.”
The most embarrassing moment was when she was told by the department in the fourth year that she no longer qualified for UIF. That was a wake-up call that she needed to do something about her situation.
As the youngest of three children and the only daughter at home, Mboko knew instinctively that she needed to put her degree to practice.
“I started off [farming in] two backyard gardens that I had borrowed from my mother. I initially planted [Optima] cabbage and [Fordhook Giant] spinach. Before starting, I spent some time on the internet researching on Google and social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and podcasts,” she explains.
Mboko followed many agricultural groups and various young farmers on social media to see how they managed to thrive in the farming space. This made her even more confident to chase her dream.
“I started off with an attitude of ‘whatever the outcome of this project is, it is a trial to see if I really can challenge myself to start and be able to work with the soil no matter the circumstances’.
“[Thereafter] I became more confident, realising that farming gives me a sense of internal peace and calm that I could not explain. I never looked back.”
Using social media to her advantage
Mboko says she started relying on the power of social media for growth and guidance. She often shared pictures of her crops online, asking for feedback from other farmers with more experience.
“It worked to my advantage as I was advised to go and sell my produce at local retailers such as Spar and Boxer supermarkets, and to street vendors. I did as I was advised, and here I am now supplying these big food chains.”
Her life motto is “to live for things that can outlive me.” To her, farming is generational and she hopes to build an agricultural enterprise that would eventually outlive her. “If at least I can leave a legacy for my family and children and community, hopefully the farming shall continue for generations to come.”
Mboko’s family is most supportive and she also draws inspiration from the many strangers and mentors she discovered on social media. However, this does not mean that her journey is always smooth sailing.
“Challenges that I have experienced was bad weather in November to December 2020. Hail destroyed almost all my crops. We also have irrigation challenges. Sometimes water would stop running for days.”
Mboko has one permanent employee while a few seasonal workers are hired for planting and harvesting. Her company, Kella’s Farming, now also produces crops such as potatoes and butternuts. “Not only has this project impacted my life and my family, but also the youth of the community are very inspired. My advice for young people would be, ‘Don’t sleep in your dreams. Write your visions down. No matter how much they scare you, trust yourself as I believe everyone has a purpose.’”
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