Growing up in African societies, we are taught that education is the key to success. Yes, education is important, but one would think that without a decent educational qualification, life is automatically arduous.
Well, 25-year-old award-winning South African farmer Siphesihle Kwetana saw hope beyond her academic failure.
Siphesihle failed her matric in 2013 and like a typical teenager, felt like her life had ended and had no future plans. Soon, she realized that she could still use what she had, her hands, to make a living.
Looking for a way out, Siphesihle started selling cooked food from a container. She was selling traditional food, and business was going well, but this was short-lived as all illegal structures were destroyed by the local municipality of Mthatha. It was back to the drawing board for her.
Siphesihle then saw a different opportunity where others saw a problem. Her town had a shortage of fresh vegetables and when customers got them, they were expensive.
This was an eye-opener for Siphesihle, who realized she could make money from growing and supplying vegetables. With the help of her husband Hillary Pachena, she acquired a two-acre plot, and that was the start of a bigger business.
At only 20 years old, it was a challenge being taken seriously in agri-business. Siphesihle had difficulty employing farm workers, and it was also hard to sell her produce to local shops.
Farm workers were scared of working for her. They thought she would fail and they would have to look for new jobs eventually. Even though she had also acquired an 85-acre farm in Qumbu Eastern Cape, most retailers turned her down saying local producers are inconsistent when it comes to supplying fresh farm produce.
Siphesihle, however, did not give up, and at one point she had to use her husband to get clients after being turned down. She said to Food For Mzansi,
“Once I showed a shop manager my broccoli and he dismissed me. He told me that he didn’t even want to listen to what I had to say. When my husband showed them the vegetables [a week later], they loved it and wanted us to supply them. In that moment I realized that being a young female farmer was never going to be easy.”
Currently, her farm produces vegetables ranging from turnip, cauliflower, peas, butternut, and carrots, among others.
Her determination and zeal have taken her far. Siphesihle has been supplying big clients since 2015 and is the co-owner of Siphe Development and Capacitation Agency, an agency which offers training and support in agri-business and development of underdeveloped farming areas in Eastern Cape.
The 25-year-old, who is also a mother of two, has a handful of awards, having received four in 2019 alone. These include:
- Female Provincial Top Commercial Entrepreneur
- National Agriculture Excellence Small-holder Award
- Youth in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award
- Top Commercial Entrepreneur Award.
Her secret is simple: she doesn’t compromise on quality or take shortcuts; and of course, she doesn’t let rejection or people’s perceptions hinder her from pursuing her dreams.
Siphesihle is a true testimony that you sometimes just needs to look at what you have and make the most of it.
Phoebie Shamiso Chigonde is a journalist passionate about gender equality, social development programmes and grassroots-based solution seeking initiatives. She has a passion for women and community development. Phoebie is also a radio personality at a regional commercial radio station, a platform that enables her to network with like-minded women, journalists and activists as she continues to document and tell the story of the ordinary woman from the lens of that very ordinary woman.