In her backyard nursery in a rural village called N’wamitwa, outside Tzaneen in Limpopo, is where you will find young Shanen Rikhotso. The nursery has been called a beacon of hope which is empowering a community that once frowned upon the value of agriculture.
“There are few geographical characteristics to describe my village. It’s just a plain village with no rivers and mountains, but the village has heart and is bursting with potential,” she exclaims.
The community is plagued by chronic unemployment. It is a place where unemployed youth can be found wandering the dusty streets with mischievous intent, while others are fuelled by drink and drugs.
But the 25-year-old’s nursey, Ntsakelo’s Nursery, is slowly changing the negative landscape.
Since starting in 2017, her clientele has mostly comprised of young people wanting to grow vegetables in their own backyards.
“Agriculture holds great opportunities for youth. A lot of young people in my community have been able to generate income for themselves by growing vegetables that started off as seedlings in my nursery. Hearing me say it, it’s a great feeling.”
The nursery sprouts spinach, beetroot, and green pepper seedlings for customers who travel from as far as Venda and Polokwane, thanks to Rikhotso’s clever marketing strategy. She makes use of Facebook and WhatsApp groups to promote the nursery.
Currently her backyard nursery which stretches to about half a hectare and is home to close to 150 000 seedlings that are sold in packs of a 100 for R35 and 1000 seedlings for R350.
Starting her own small farm
Before starting her nursery, she had a small farming business which saw the young agriculturalist growing vegetables like spinach, beetroot and green pepper. She sold the veg to people in her community. “I realized that things were going well and I thought of starting a nursery so that I could supply other people who want to do farming as well.”
Her knowledge of vegetables was limited, but her mom, a farm worker, stepped in to help.
“I am glad to have a supportive mom, when I come with an idea, she never rejects it. I can say she is the backbone. She said it’s great and helped me to get the nursery up and running.”
“In Xitsonga I say, Loko ndzi vona rihlaza ndzi vona vutomi vurimi byi na nkoka ngopfu, which means ‘when I see green, I see life’.”
The nursery has empowered her community and people have started valuing agriculture, she says.
“I think it’s very important to continue ensuring there’s a culture of farming because at the end of the day we have to secure incomes for ourselves.
“Besides, the skills of agriculture are easy to transfer. We’ll grow incomes and create more jobs.”
Rikhotso says that people in her community used to disrespect farmers a lot for the work they do, and regarded it as low-income work.
“People are really starting to value agriculture,” she says. “In a rural area there are many people who undermine farmers and the work they do. We think what they are getting is like a minimum wage.”
But the young farmer has inspired her community not just through her farming endeavours but also through her academic achievements. Rikhotso is currently doing her Master of Science degree in geography. In 2018 she completed her Bachelor of Science degree in environment and resources.
“My community sees that I am also educated while being a farmer and this inspires them and at the same time changes the perception of agriculture.
“They can learn that farming is not for uneducated people, because even educated people can venture into farming,” she says.
‘I’ll have fun later…’
The full-time student says when her farming boots are taken off, she goes into student mode to study at night.
“There’s no time to sleep when I have goals to reach. Sometimes I’m awake, studying and I think of my peers who are out and about having fun. But that’s ok, I encourage myself and keep going. I’ll have my fun later.”
Her journey has not been easy. Water supply for her vegetables and seedlings has been a huge challenge.
“I bought water from my neighbours who had a borehole. Sometimes they weren’t available or at home while I had to water my crops. It led to my vegetables drying up at one point,” she says
But the young farmer is choosing to stay committed to her agri dreams
“Agriculture completes my life. In Xitsonga I say, Loko ndzi vona rihlaza ndzi vona vutomi vurimi byi na nkoka ngopfu, which means ‘when I see green, I see life’.”
Her goal is to continue growing her business and giving it the time and energy it deserves. She hopes her business will continue blossoming into a larger enterprise that will supply seedlings to all farmers in Limpopo.
“I want people to look at my business and realize that anything is possible in this world as long as they put mind and effort into it. Whatever idea you have, you can achieve that.”