Photo by Harshal S. Hirve on Unsplash
In an area drained of young people migrating to cities in search of a better or more fast-paced life, Sipho Moagi stands out. While many of his peer group joined the constant flow out of rural Limpopo – contributing to the 10% increase in rural/urban migration from 2009 to 2019, according to Statista – Moagi stayed stubbornly put on his family’s land.
Preserving the family legacy
Moving to “the big city” was not even a temptation for the 36-year-old, who says he’s never had aspirations beyond toiling the soil he was born onto, Rock Hill Farm in Tzaneen, Limpopo – the same piece of agricultural land that his grandfather hoed in the 1930s and passed down to his son, who then passed the family business onto Moagi. “I was born and bred on a farm,” he says. “l grew up having a passion for farming and decided to pursue it as a career in 2015.”
For Moagi, taking over the family farm is also a principled stance to preserve his family’s proud legacy. His family farmed their land throughout the dark years of apartheid, when black land ownership was an anomaly due to the 1913 Natives Land Act that saw thousands of black families forcibly removed from their land.
While Rock Hill Farm has stayed true to its roots of producing nutritious vegetables grown in Limpopo’s rich, red soil, when Moagi took over the reigns from his aging parents five years ago, he quickly realised that times had changed and so, too, must the business.
Facing the fact that he was up against commercial vegetable farming versus his parents’ small-scale farming operation, Moagi sought help from the SAB Foundation Tholoana programme run by business incubator Fetola. “I went to Fetola because I did not have any idea of business management skills, particularly with cash crop production,” he explains.
Moagi’s predicament is not unique in South Africa. Small-scale farmers face problems which include climate variability, lack of appropriate agricultural infrastructure, a shortage of skills due to high rural-urban migration, high levels of soil degradation and the constraints of competing on an equal footing with commercial farms that have the competitive advantage of owning the land they farm.
Moagi fortunately does not have the extra challenge of not owning his land, but like all small-scale farmers he battled to bring his business to profitability. This started to change after he participated in the Tholoana programme. “After receiving one-on-one mentorship, I now know how to take my family’s values of producing quality produce and make it profitable.”
Moagi now sees himself as part farmer/part entrepreneur and is embracing social media marketing and taking every opportunity to attend business forums and sales and marketing workshops.
This new approach to his family tradition is beginning to pay off. The father of three now employs two full-time and two part-time staff and several more during harvest time. His market has also grown beyond local hawkers to include direct sales to households and feeding schemes.
While much has changed in his five years at the helm of Rock Hill Farm, Moagi says his family’s age-old business ethos remains the same: “We continue to provide quality vegetables at a reasonable price. That will never change as long as I’m alive.”
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