When Bulelwa Makonxa (28) could not find a job after graduating from an agricultural college, she started her own farm to create a job for herself and members of her community.
She graduated with a diploma in animal production from the Middledrift Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry in the Eastern Cape in 2016. After moving to Durban to stay with her aunt, she eventually realised her qualification would be best used by starting her own farm.
“I heard someone talking about the iThala Development Finance Corporation which provides financial support to businesses in the province. I went to their offices and applied for a loan, which was approved in November 2018,” she says.
By the time the loan was approved, she had already registered her business – Aqhamile Agri Enterprise (Ltd) – and today has 16.5 hectares planted with spinach, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, butternut and peppers. She supplies fresh produce to the Durban Fresh Produce Market in Clairwood and a number of local retailers.
“I wanted to start something of my own and to make a difference in the lives of people who were unemployed like me,” she says.
She experienced challenges, like many other emerging businesses, but was fortunate to receive 10 hydroponic tunnels from the Agribusiness Development Agency (ADA), which is an entity of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It aims to ensure a diverse, deracialised and sustainable agribusiness sector in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
The ADA also provided her business with a mobile cold storage unit, ripper, other farming equipment, infrastructure and mentorship.
Makonxa has learnt that starting a business without enough working capital comes with a lot of challenges.
“I had 22 employees and had to cut down to eight because the farm could not generate enough money to pay salaries. I am still working on addressing this challenge,” she says. “Creating jobs is important to me because many people in my area did not have an opportunity to get an education and they look to farms for employment.”
Makonxa says the coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected her business because of all that had to be done to avoid getting sick and to observe lockdown regulations.
“People were scared to come to work and we ended up losing a lot of produce,” she says.
Agricultural businesses around KZN can apply for assistance from the ADA by calling 033 347 8600 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org