"Attitude is more important than land size"

Bhefika Matshenja (34), of Inhlakanipho Projects and Farms, is proving that it is not only the size of the farm but also its arability, location and the aptitude of the farmer that determine its viability.

Bhekifa received the Star of Buhle award – an award given to an outstanding graduate – at our graduation ceremony in June 2019. He has 6000 chickens, and dug vegetable plots between his two chicken houses, on his farm of just 1.5ha farm in Eikenhof, 30km outside Johannesburg.

It has taken several years, but he is now making a good living, and has innovative plans for expansion.

“I farm intensively and am close to markets, which means I can earn a good salary every month. It enables me to support my family, pay my two permanent and six short-term workers, and save for my farming business and my children’s education.”

Farming was a family business for Bhekifa’s parents, who leased farmland from the City of Johannesburg while raising their children in Soweto. However, a lack of funding always thwarted their plans, and in time the land was rezoned for housing.

As a young adult, Bhekifa became a carpenter for a company within the Steinhoff group. He was retrenched in 2010, by which time he had been seeking a more fulfilling career. “I started looking at what had really helped us a family,” he said. “We had been buying and selling my grandparents’ chicken stock, so I started researching, looking deeper and deeper at how to grow and sell chickens. My view expanded.”

The same year, he went to the Buhle Farmers’ Academy to study broiler production, farm management and environmental control. Four years later, he was granted the land on which he now farms. “Then there were hiccups,” he remembers. “You fail – and then you pick yourself up again. You only learn the answers once you’re in the situation, getting feedback for your particular situation.”

One of the greatest challenges was finding markets for his chickens. Bhekifa decided to become a middleman, buying and selling chickens as he made the business connections he would need for the future. Another obstacle was obtaining the capital injection he needed to build his farm. He applied to many government departments for money and received grants from the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Youth Development Agency and the Department of Agriculture, although it took between six months and two years after the grants were approved, for them to be awarded.

A third issue was that the informal market that Bhekifa supplies wants large chickens, which can be sensitive to disease and require higher monthly feed costs than smaller birds. One of the ways he is addressing this is to move towards organic disease control, giving his chickens a lot of garlic, which acts as a natural antibiotic.

Bhekifa’s farm, Inhlakanipho Projects and Farms, was originally a co-operative but he is now the sole owner. He has a good relationship with his former co-op members, who are also family members and who help with duties on the farm he cannot manage himself, including transporting his goods to market in their bakkies.

In 2017, he built bigger chicken houses, put up a fence and gate, and set up security. He also constructed his own silo tank for storing feed. Bhekifa is currently expanding and refurbishing his chicken houses, converting one from zinc to bricks.

“I want to be able to sell chisa nyama (braaied chicken), so I’m now constructing an abattoir, and will take the chickens, with a stove and pots, to townships on a trailer, so that we can cook it and sell to passers-by in Soweto.”

“The Farmer Support Officers have come to advise me on how to overcome many challenges. This has helped me and is also helping others, because most of my neighbours now come to me for advice.”

Introducing Buhle

There are many thousands of new farmers in South Africa who have access to arable land but don't have the skills, guidance and capital they need to grow a viable farming business. Buhle Farmers’ Academy is a non-profit organisation that trains, mentors and supports these aspiring farmers. We offer holistic courses covering all the farming and management skills that new farmers need (see Programme section for more details), and trainees come from all over the country to learn at our campus near Delmas, Mpumalanga. Our farmer support offices mentor as many of our graduates as possible, and we manage several programme providing financial support to some of our most promising alumni.  Since we opened our doors in the year 2000 we have grown from strength to strength, and have now trained about 6 000 emerging farmers - half of them women and 60% of them youth - in vegetable, crops, poultry and livestock production, and mixed farming. Even better, about 12 000 jobs have been created due to Buhle, based on the assumption that for every new farmer established, at least one additional job is created.  Our Mission Buhle’s mission is train and support aspiring farmers from across South Africa to run farming businesses that are both profitable and sustainable. The effect is that we are helping to alleviate poverty by creating jobs, while ensuring food security.  Over the years, Buhle has developed a best-practice model that could help make a huge difference in helping to transform agriculture in South Africa. In the rural and poorest areas of our country, the biggest employers are government, agriculture and mining. Most of these employers are unlikely to radically increase their take-up of employees. Our biggest hope lies in developing a culture of entrepreneurship, and agriculture is one of the key sectors for doing so. Universities and training colleges are expensive and have strict academic entrance criteria, which many aspiring farmers cannot fulfil. They need accessible, practical training with the follow-up coaching and support that enables them to overcome the myriad, unpredictable challenges of agriculture. Buhle fulfils these needs.

Our History In the years after 1994 – when South Africa became a democracy – our newspapers were peppered with stories of how farming ventures fail after being handed over to black farmers. It became clear that transferring land was simply not enough. Emerging farmers also needed farming skills and ongoing mentorship.

A group of concerned citizens with agricultural expertise decided to address this problem. In the year 2000, they got together to form the Food Health Hope Foundation and, under its auspices, Buhle – meaning “It is good” – was established. Our founding partner was Monsanto, now Bayer, who donated to us the fertile land that became our training farm and gave us the start-up capital we needed. We developed our first curriculum in conjunction with Tshwane University of Technology, focusing on vegetable production as it has a short production cycle. Two years later, we added poultry, livestock and crop production courses. In 2004, we registered the Buhle Farmers’ Academy as an NPO in order to continue our fundraising efforts. We have grown from strength to strength over the years. From our first cohort of 57 students in the year 2000, we trained over 500 in 2018, and we have now trained almost 6 000 farmers over the years. Our heartfelt thanks go to every one of our funding partners. With your backing and partnership, we are indeed fulfilling our mission: to transform dreams into reality for many thousands of aspiring farmers.

Our Approach

Buhle has developed a best-practice model for training aspiring farmers, which includes:

  • A sound theoretical knowledge base in agricultural technology
  • Competency based practical skills training
  • Training in farm business management
  • Training in appropriate life skills
  • Effective follow-up and support services.

Our People

Our staff are the people who make it all happen, and behind us is the highest authority of our organisation, the Board of Trustees of the Food Health Hope Foundation. The Board oversees our vision, mission and activities. Motivated entirely by their sense of philanthropy, they donate their time, knowledge, experience and prestige to help grow and guide the Buhle Farmers’ Academy. A picture of our staff on each campus is below, and underneath that is a list of our board of trustees.   buhle-staff-2015

Our Partners

Our heartfelt thanks go to every one of our partners, who make our work possible: