When Tshidi Masebe started her now-thriving farming business in 2008 she didn’t anticipate the numerous security, supplier and administrative challenges that would be thrown her way.
“It took 10 years to bring the farm up to operational profitably,” Masebe says. “In that time, we faced resistance from officials, and problems with service providers, many of whom would take payment and disappear with no services rendered. Because we didn’t have a fence, people were also stealing our crops.
“However, we still proceeded to invest in expensive renovations of our farmhouse. We also bought borehole pumps and upgraded the old piggery house that had been built. We managed to buy our own tractor and, over time we amassed all of our equipment,” she says.
Her journey began by chance, when she spotted a newspaper advert posted by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform offering farms to black beneficiaries interested in farming.
The application was approved in just one week and Masebe was informed that the farm allocated to her was in the Sedibeng District. She received a piggery, but the farm she received was a vacant land with no infrastructure and a very old unused house.
The department allocated money to make the house habitable, install a borehole and pumps and new piggery houses to be constructed.
Masebe travelled to countries like Angola, Mozambique, DRC, Burkina Faso, learning about indigenous food and medicinal herbs and decided to expand into large scale crop farming, starting with maize. Through these travels, she started Women in Agribusiness in Sub-Sahara Africa Alliance (WASAA), an organisation for women from 12 SADC countries.
She also established the Lerothodi cooperative, a regional maize hub in Sedibeng. She also serves as the deputy chairperson of Sedibeng Agri-Park. Additionally, she is a founder member of NAMEC Agriculture, which is now called the Black Business Council for Agriculture.
The maize farm grew to 60 hectares, now employing eight full-time employees. Also, in September 2019, she hosts 25 learners on her farm through the Agri-SETA training project. The learners will learn various agriculture modules including farm management, tractor maintenance, stock handling and harvesting techniques.
This will give the learners a unique opportunity to see a commercial farm in transition, as the learnership coincides with the farm’s entry into high value vegetable production, starting with broccoli, baby arrows, green beans and peppers. The Masebe Farm will also be working towards attaining global Good Agricultural Practices (G.A.P) certification for a tomato farming operation in order to establish a high volume South African market as well as exports.
To achieve this, Masebe will invest further in modern multi-span bays and five hectares of orchards. Engagements with RSA Fresh Produce and Agri-BEE are opening up potential markets to promote transformation of the industry and inclusion of black people and women.
“I don’t think the agricultural industry is transformed enough, especially in horticulture, where new farmers don’t have the necessary infrastructure,” Masebe says. “We find that many farmers don’t have irrigation, boreholes, tunnels and agri-processing systems. The lack of cold chain refrigerated trucks and packaging infrastructure limits emerging farmers to simple products like cabbage, which can only sell to hawkers.”
In her new ventures, Masebe is looking to supply markets such as the large supermarket chains. With support from the Agricultural Research Council in best practice and methods, as well as funding through the CCBSA Mintirho Foundation, Masebe Farming is poised to be one of the first large-scale, black women-owned farms in South Africa, breaking an established legacy of patriarchy and monopoly.
“Emerging farmers need to use every resource available to them and not just rely on the fact that Government will provide land,” Masebe adds.