Growing up in rural Transkei, where one of her chores was to tend to the garden daily before going to school, female farmer Fezeka Mkile did not see farming as a future career path until she got insight into the business side of it later in life.
In 2007, Mkile co-founded Mthatha Airport Agricultural Service (MAAS), which has since become a successful commercial farm that produces mainly tomatoes near Mthatha Airport.
MAAS cultivates tomatoes in an 8 023 square metre area, producing 70 tons a year to supply mainly the Spar Group around Mthatha, Kei Fresh Produce Market, retail shops, established restaurants and hawkers.
MAAS has 14 full-time employees and hires casuals as needed. Mkile, who was named the Top Eastern Cape Commercial Female Enterprenuer by the Department of Rural Development & Agrarian Reform in 2012, developed a passion for agriculture while working for a farmers’ NGO funded by Swedish Cooperative Centre (SCC).
“When I was promoted to CEO of SCC I had to visit farmers and soon developed a passion for farming. I started doing short courses in agriculture until I knew that I could do it,” said Mkile, who is also the deputy chairperson of the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency.
She partnered with seven other farmers who had acquired land near the airport in Mthatha and together they developed a business plan. “We worked out that we needed R6.7 million to operate the farm. We approached professionals such as doctors, accountants and pharmacists in Mthatha so that they could invest in our venture. I also invested my savings,” said Mkile, recounting the ups and downs MAAS has gone through.
Despite their efforts to raise enough working capital, Mkile and her partners still had a shortfall. “We had only managed to raise R1.4 million of the R6.7 million we needed,” she said.
The Eastern Cape government came on board and Johannesburg-based Kagiso Rural Enterprise gave them R4.3 million.
The provincial department of economic development helped to secure funding from the European Union (EU) and provincial development financier, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) came through with the cash component they needed at the last minute.
“We received amazing support from government; financially and technically. We applied and received grant funding of R4.5 million from the EU-funded Thina Sinako programme, through the Eastern Cape Provincial Treasury. This was supplemented by R1.6 million from the ECDC. We received another R1.6 million from Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for infrastructure and implements,” she said.
Mkile is already preparing for her next venture and has her sights set on agro-processing.
“My goal is to do agro-processing and produce tomato juice, sauce and dried tomato. My overall intention is to have an agri-tourism venture.”