Tzaneen farmer on how she has kept afloat during lockdown – and her advice to aspiring farmers

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One of the few industries that has kept going since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown is the agricultural industry. The need for their supply to supermarkets has not decreased because of the pandemic and despite the risk, the industry had to keep producing.

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DRUM spoke to Tzaneen farmer Ntsako Shipalana about how she has been keeping afloat during this time and the advice she has for aspiring young female farmers.

“Growing up, I was always exposed to farming because my mother actually loves farming. She’s a vegetarian so everything we ate was something she grew herself. Through that, I got exposed to the different sectors of agriculture. It’s not something I studied for. I started Olori Chickens in 2017. I’ve been in this industry for the past three years. What is keeping me here is that I have not achieved my goal yet and it’s still very much possible. I work on a family farm, my grandfather raised his family on it. It’s a poultry and piggery farm, and there’s food production as well,” the 27-year-old says.

Ntsako also spoke about the rewards of farming and why she continues doing what she does, despite the hardships that have come with the lockdown.

“The rewarding part of it all is that it’s very easy to create jobs because it is a difficult job. It’s not something you can do on your own no matter how much you think you can. Being able to create jobs and feeding the nation at the same time teaches you patience. You grow something from it’s smallest size until it is something big enough to sell off.

“Lockdown has been quite bad because I deal with households. When your clients are not able to go to work and generate money, it also puts you in a very critical stage of your business. You have to think outside of the box and find ways to keep things afloat. At the same time, it’s something I used as an opportunity to see what is happening through the manuals I sell and the one-on-one sessions for people that have realised that our jobs are not really secured,” she explains.

Ntsako Shipalana
Ntsako Shipalana

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Speaking on her story that has been making the rounds on social media, the Tzaneen farmer says employing people during lockdown isn’t something that has only happened now as these are workers who have been working on the farm for quite some time.

“My story only got exposed now but It’s not easy to lay people off, especially if you know that person doesn’t have any qualifications. What they currently have, which is the job, is what keeps their food on the table. So, you just need to try to find something else.

“If there’s a strenuous section for me, for example, my father will maybe have something on the piggery side of the farm or other things along the farm that the workers can do. We don’t lay people off, we rotate them,” Ntsako tells us.

She also got candid about what her job does for the country and how she is trying to help those who would also like to get into farming.

“What I love more about feeding the nation is knowing that I am also equipping it. So, when the economy opens up I’m really hoping to be able to go to different places and host seminars and workshops for those who have really been wanting to go into poultry but have been scared or unsure. I’d really like to train other people so we can have more people feeding the nation. Soon enough, maybe the country can just stop importing chickens.

“What I would like to say to other aspiring female farmers is: always dedicate all your time into your foundation. It’s pointless to rush the process if you’re not prepared because your houses are going to come down. Take time working on your brand. I have failed so many times and I’ve had to start over again and again. However, because I know what I want, it helps me realise why I shouldn’t stop. I continue to make things possible for myself,” Ntsako says.

Ntsako Shipalana
Ntsako Shipalana on her farm.
Ntsako Shipalana
Ntsako Shipalana inspiring her employees.

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Ntsako also advises that during this time, funding shouldn’t be something you solely rely on if you are also able to act. She says when one starts something, it’s okay to start small.

“When I went to the NYDA, somebody there already knew who I was and where I worked. My brand spoke for itself and my work spoke through my brand – I made a lot of noise with both. I remember the lady I spoke to said, ’There is no way that this place cannot fund this girl because I know what she does’. You need to know what help you need and the amount of funding that will carry you through,” she tells us.

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