She may have had a passion for farming, but Gugulethu Mahlangu initially lacked the experience. So, she started volunteering at farms and the knowledge she gained proved invaluable, with her starting her own vegetable farm in Boksburg in Ekurhuleni in 2019.
The 14-hectare piece of land is used to produce Fordhook Giant Swiss chard spinach and turnips under shade netting and in tunnels. She sells her produce at a nearby market in Springs, and to local businesses in and around Boksburg.
Mahlangu told Vutivi News that she started farming because she was looking for job opportunities, which were hard to come by. “I wanted to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, so I decided to go in the direction of farming,” she said.
The businesswoman started out by volunteering at farms for two years. She started on communal lands in Kokstad and Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal, and eNtokozweni in Mpumalanga.
“In eNtokozweni I tried planting cabbages, but they died because the climate is very cold in that region. I consider this period a time when I was going through a trial-and-error basis,” she said. Mahlangu said that after she gained the necessary experience to launch her own project, financing proved to be difficult,
So, she started a construction company called GMS Dream House Construction in her hometown of eMalahleni in Mpumalanga 2018. “I started GMS because I saw an opportunity in my hometown which is a fast-growing area due to the mining industry,” she said.
“There was an influx of people who needed homes, and I saw this as an opportunity not only to provide houses, it was also a way to get cash flow for my farming business,” Mahlangu said that when she started farming, she faced various challenges.
She said Gauteng had a very cold winter that affected the spinach and delayed the products being taken to the market. “Covid-19 also resulted in me experiencing labour shortages because people were scared to work due to the pandemic,” Mahlangu said.
“However, with the help of other farmers who are my mentors, I now have the experience needed to maximise my profits.”
Mahlangu advised future farmers to ensure they had enough experience before starting a new venture. “Farming is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but is a long-term investment.” She said that in five years’ time she would like to be an organic farmer who specialised in hydroponic farming and aquaponics.
“I also wanted to prove that it is possible for women to be farmers, and to challenge the stereotypes that farming is an activity reserved only for men,” the businesswoman said.