Buhle graduate Lerato Senakhomo, who year received the Star of Buhle award last year – an award given each year to an extraordinary graduate – is a model of perseverance.
“My dad was retrenched in 2010, and we had to sell the plot we owned,” Lerato remembers. “Then we rented, which was very difficult, as landlords are not always easy. For seven years, my parents tried to obtain more land from government. We went through torture.”
Meanwhile, Lerato became determined to grow her own successful farming business, encouraged by her mother’s assertion that agriculture is the “backbone of our economy”, and that she herself could have been very successful if she had started farming at her daughter’s age. Lerato completed three courses at Buhle in the year 2012, and spent the next year trying to get more land, as her parents had been doing.
“I always told myself I wouldn’t wait for government but would apply for every loan out there to help my business grow,” she says. “I knocked on so many doors.
“Getting finance was also hard, even though I knew how to write a good business plan and market my produce, due to the guidance I received from Buhle,” she says, “Several possible deals fell through because I didn’t have finance.”
In 2014, she received 535 hectares from the government’s land reform programme and a loan from a mentor, which enabled her to plant maize. She ploughed the profits into livestock. Over the past four years she has been growing her farm. This year she planted 80 hectares of sugar beans. She also has 600 goats, 80 sheep and 72 Nguni cattle, which she received in February this year from the land-reform programme.
Lerato has also received awards, including one for being the best female farmer in Gauteng from the provincial department of agriculture. Her farming company, Senakhomo Farming, now supports her parents, her two daughters, her brother and herself, and employs six workers. Determined to grow her enterprise even further, she is now planning a large chicken-house and a piggery for 250 pigs. She is keeping her fingers crossed regarding two more possible finance deals.
“I keep telling my mom that when I am 30, I want to be employing 60 people – double my age,” she says, with a smile.
Lerato was the youngest person ever to receive the government grant of Nguni cattle. They are not a gift; after five years, she will have to return an equivalent number. However, by then she will have her own herd.
She is an example of what can be achieved with a passion for farming, a strong business acumen and sheer grit, says Buhle’s director of business and finance, Zamo Shongwe.
Halala, Lerato, halala!