Despite being a qualified accountant and running a successful distribution agency, Relebohile Nko has always been drawn to agriculture. Born and bred in Bethuile in the Free State, Nko’s roots as an entrepreneur were firmly established in the Western Cape, where her first company was a distribution business in Cape Town under the name JRM Family Enterprises.
The business distributed bread for established bakeries like Albany and Blue Ribbon, but now focuses on cold meats. In 2017, Nko decided to embark on her journey as a farmer, and she did so with an arsenal of business skills and experience. “I noticed that there was a high demand in the Free State for vegetables and chickens, and I took advantage of that gap,” she said told Vutivi News. “We started farming with cabbages, beetroots and spinach, and it wasn’t until 2020 that we started farming broilers.”
Her company, Manosi JRM, distributes fresh produce to local shops and markets in Colesberg, Springfontein, Aliwal North, Bloemfontein and other surrounding towns. The poultry farm, which employs five people, has a butchery on the farm, and Nko opened another butchery in Bethuile earlier this year. Nko recalled that when she started the poultry farm, she only had 309 chickens and one bag of feed.
“We sold all of the chickens and we were able to buy more chicks and feed, but it was very hard the first year around,” she said. “That winter was bitterly cold, and we were not prepared, and as such we lost 60% of our chickens in one month only. “We learned our lessons the hard way and we now go to great lengths to prepare for the seasons before they come,” Nko said.
She said she was still struggling though, as there was no abattoir nearby, which was financially taxing. “Because there is no nearby abattoir, I must use two vans to transport my chickens: one for the live chickens and one for the slaughtered chickens,” the farmer said. Another headache is irrigation. Nko uses a borehole, and pumping the water requires electricity, which is expensive.
She told Vutivi News she was considering investing in a solar system. On her plans for the future, Nko wants to set up more butcheries. Her first one was slowly built brick by brick. “Because we couldn’t even afford bricks, we learned how to make our own bricks and built it from the ground up,” Nko said. “However, it is fully certified, and it is where we distribute our chickens. This is exactly what I had hoped to achieve when I started the business, because my strategy was to have butcheries across the province where my products would be sold. “We are also building a second chicken house, and with these two projects I feel like I am well on my way to reaching my goals.”