“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.”

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