Mbali Nwoko (30) of Sunninghill in Johannesburg is the CEO of Green Terrace, a Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Level 1 agribusiness focussing on primary crop farming. She describes herself as a “black female youth farmer” and her story is truly inspiring. The University of Johannesburg alumnus has a BCom in psychology and worked in the corporate world before starting her own recruitment company. But she left it all behind after being introduced to the world of farming “by coincidence”. Mbali says her journey started after she chatted to a friend who told her about the opportunities available in farming, and how her enterprising personality would be a perfect fit for the industry. She did her research and found there weren’t many female farmers in South Africa, so she decided to create a niche for herself. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial flair in me and I’m a big risk taker,” Mbali adds. Mbali started her farming business with her husband – and silent partner – in 2016 and now runs a successful farm that’s making big yields.
She leases the 14-hectare farm in Boksburg on which she plants Swiss chard, green peppers and green beans – but she plans to solely focus on high-value crops like baby marrows and green beans in the future. “There is a greater demand and they respond well to the soil,” Mbali says. The produce goes to food processors and the fresh produce industry, as well as to markets. Mbali emphasises it hasn’t always been easy – challenges include a lack of funding as a black female farmer, as well as getting consistent payment from clients. She has weathered these difficulties by having a diverse range of clients she can sell produce to, to avoid being stuck with unsold harvests. She also credits the Omnia Group for their help – they specialise in fertilisers and provided much-needed funding.
On garnering a spot as one of 20 finalists in the 2017 Sage Small Business Awards, Mbali says, “It was so lovely to be nominated. Even though we didn’t win, it opened a lot of doors.” Sage now handles her accounting and she was able to connect with new people.
Mbali’s new take on farming includes going digital – with farming apps – and trying to find improved methods of preserving water and growing quality crops through precision farming. She is working towards building Green Terrace as a brand and wants to inspire people to get into farming. On why she loves her unexpected career change Mbali says, “Farming taught me life should be enjoyed. I enjoy being outdoors and watching the plants grow”. “There are stereotypes that women can’t really farm, but I enjoy surprising doubters.” Mbali aims to buy her own piece of land and wants to employ more people – she has 6 full-time and eight contract workers – and to start exporting her produce. Check out our interview with Mbali on drum.co.za!