Thirteen years ago the dream to farm of Tumelo Siliga’s father, Bethuel Siliga, became a reality. Bethuel’s dream was short lived, however, due to his unexpected death. The life plans of his eldest son, Tumelo, were turned upside down, as he now had to step into his father’s shoes at the age of 20.
Siliga had no interest in farming. His heart was set on a career in politics. Agriculture had never attracted him while he was growing up. However, he never complained when he had to help with his parents’ side business, selling chickens as an extra household income. “Farming has always been there for me during school holidays. I would be pushing, selling and delivering chickens to our clients.”
Siliga Senior worked as a general manager at Kaizer Chicks, a farming business, that owned several farms in Louis Trichardt in Limpopo. In 2006, when the farming business he worked for stopped farming to open an abattoir, he decided to start farming on his own full-time. He acquired Kharishume Poultry Farm, in Makhado in Limpopo, financed with a land bank loan.
“My father unfortunately passed away in 2007 after we made our first instalment for the farm,” Siliga says. “My mom and siblings, who are stakeholders in the business, are involved from time to time, but I’m the one who runs the farm.”
In 2008 the farm started growing chickens on contract for poultry dealers such as Bushvalley and Rainbow Chickens. A very young Siliga managed to finish a degree in administration and international relations from the University of Pretoria while running his family farm. After graduating he had other plans to become a diplomat or a politician. Reality called, however, and he needed to make a choice immediately.
He decided to continue to farm since it was through the farming business that he was able to pay for his degree. “I think I grew to love it, because as you start to live in it you build your own network.”
The now 32-year-old farmer believes farming is not rocket science but “it definitely feels like a rollercoaster ride”.
Kharisme Poultry Farm did well until 2013, when a power outage and a failed backup generator led to the death of roughly 19 000 chickens held in a closed compartment on their farm.
Although he lost a lot of money, Tumelo made a quick turnaround when he stopped contract growing and tapped into the informal market. He has set up five “depots”, and he sells his chickens to rural communities in and around Makhado.
Away from the chicken business, Tumelo has started to invest his time into vegetable crops. “I’ve done a contract with Peppadew International. I was growing peppadews, but this season I’m not planting. I currently do a lot of cabbage and spinach as well,” he says.
Tumelo did not fulfil his desire to work in politics, but through his career in agriculture he is actively addressing food security and unemployment in Mzansi. Although he cannot appoint them permanently, he offers part-time jobs to young people in his community.
As a young farmer, Tumelo is convinced that “working in agriculture is a noble profession. Every human can farm, it’s a natural process and everybody needs a farmer.” He believes that if we can get more people to grow their own food it can contribute much to eradicating hunger and ensuring food security.