Buhle graduate Karabo Mofekeng (27) has won the top prize at the prestigious City of Ekurhuleni Youth Entrepreneurship Boot Camp prize, where he presented the business plan he developed at the Buhle Farmers’ Academy.
The prize is R200 000-worth of procurement, which will enable him to buy the first set of structures he needs for his poultry farm.
Sixty young entrepreneurs were chosen to participate for the boot camp, a competition and intensive seven-day educational programme where participants received training from captains of industry. Karabo won several rounds before being winnowed out as the most promising entrepreneur in the city.
He was representing Kre Agri Holdings, which he set up along with fellow Buhle graduates Elsie Goao (25) and Rebecca Mabasa (24).
City of Ekurhuleni spokesperson Themba Gadebe said the bootcamp was a tool to incubate emerging entrepreneurs “because our economy demands more entrepreneurs in order to create jobs.” Elurhuleni was a youthful city, and it was crucial to ensure that young people are at the centre of economic development, he added.
“The boot camp was extremely tough, physically, emotionally and mentally,” said Karabo. “When I heard that I won, I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic.”
Karabo had completed courses in livestock and vegetable production at Buhle, and graduated as one of the top three students of both courses. One of the features that sets Buhle apart from other training institutions is a strong emphasis on business skills and developing farming entrepreneurs rather than subsistence farmers. All main courses, including those Karabo completed, include modules on a host of business skills including market research, budgeting and production planning.
Before opting to farm, Karabo had worked in the retail sector for five years, three of these in management “because I worked very hard, so I progressed quickly,” he said.
“After I left retail, I did a lot of self-reflection. I had always loved working outdoors and with animals. I realised that I wanted to become a farmer.
“Being the first person in my entire family to embark on the journey of farming, I lacked the financial muscle, knowledge, experience and support and infrastructure I needed. However, I decided to follow my heart. I took it upon myself to not let my lack become my destiny.”
Karabo’s mother, a single mom, had ensured that he and his three younger siblings attended good schools, and his sound education played a substantial role in his fast trajectory in retail. However, there had never been enough money for a university education.
“I chose to go to Buhle instead,” he says. “There, I was taken from a position of knowing nothing about farming, to having all the basic skills I needed and being able to speak the language of agriculture.”
After leaving Buhle, Karabo formed Kre Agri Holdings in partnership with Elsie and Rebecca, both of whom “share the same challenges I have, but want to proactively change their own lives and the lives of those around them too,” he says.
They decided that broiler chickens were the best way to raise capital, and managed to secure a lease agreement to erect poultry houses on a local farmer’s land. Their poultry farm had between 750 chickens and 1500 chickens at a time, and the three young farmers obtained what they describe as “a lot of experience and a fair market traction”.
However, their earnings were chewed up by requirements that they had not anticipated, dashing their hopes of a profit. Their enterprise is on hold, pending the conclusion of the agreements that will enable them to resume farming, among them the City of Ekurkhuleni prize.
“We still believe that chickens are the entry point to farming, but it has to be in large numbers of about 25 000 at a time, for the three of us to make a living,” says Karabo.
The three farmers have had substantial signs that they are on the right track. As well as the boot camp prize, they have also been awarded a grant for farming inputs from the Department of Agriculture, which is expected to arrive in October.
“Despite all the challenges we are facing, we are still convinced that agriculture is where we want to be,” says Karabo. “We have entrepreneurial spirits and we are not giving up. We are passionate about farming.
“For us, this is it.”