Young and Determined
Teen mom turned businesswoman Njabulo Mbokane talks about how she became her own boss in the agricultural industry and the challenges she’s faced as a young black entrepreneur.
Owning two farms in Mpumalanga under her business Aw Dalia, Njabulo is one of the main yellow maize suppliers of the South African Breweries (SAB). She also farms chickens and vegetables.
“I’ve been farming since 2016 and started supplying yellow maize to SAB from 2018. My mentor who assisted me in utilising land in Carolina saw potential in me and introduced me to FarmSol [an institution dedicated to developing emerging farmers across the country]. From there on, I was part of the SAB emerging farmer programme implemented by FarmSol, which saw me winning the SAB and FarmSol Young Emerging Farmer of The Year Award of 2019. To this day, that has been one of my greatest achievements,” she says.
“After falling pregnant in Grade 12, I realised I had to be responsible and find ways to provide for my unborn son. My brother had always pushed the idea of ‘being your own boss’, so I started trying out this entrepreneurship thing. The more I learnt about business, the more I got closer to what I wanted. I then came across farming, saw a gap and I decided to take the opportunity.” Before getting into farming, the 25-year-old mother of one started by owning a fish and chips shop, then a spaza shop and later sold firewood at local petrol stations in her area.
The agricultural industry is known for being white male-dominated but this wasn’t the only challenge Njabulo had to face when she started.
Usually, in black African culture, a young person doesn’t tell an elder what to do, it is normally the other way around and this is seen as a form of respect. Not only this, in towns that aren’t as modernised, patriarchal norms still play a huge role in society and this was something Njabulo needed to work around with her employees.
“People underestimate your abilities when you’re young. They think you’re not taking things seriously. Employees felt they couldn’t be taking instructions from a child, more especially a girl child. A few opportunities have passed me by because institutions felt I can’t do a ‘man’s job’ – opportunities that would’ve brought capital to help the business grow.
“At first I was intimidated by the dynamics of this industry but I believed in myself, stayed in my lane, imagined myself in a big tractor around 1 000 hectares of land with a flock of livestock. Though I’ve got around some challenges, I still believe that emerging farmers need a lot of support. We need access to compete fairly in the market, we need land, mentorship and capital to diversify in the industry,” she adds.
Njabulo currently leases land at Nooitgedacht Farm in Ermelo and Sunnyside Boerdery Farm in Lothair and as her business grows, she plans is to start a foundation that will help disadvantaged youths learn about the agricultural industry and be able to start businesses of their own.