A love of the land

“There’s something about being around plants and animals, seeing them grow and reproduce, that brings me peace.”

By Lisa Witepski

Thokozile Maphisa has imagined herself as a commercial farmer, feeding the nation and creating jobs, since she was just a child. With the establishment of Ikusasalethu Agricultural Project, she’s closer than ever to achieving that goal.


Thokozile’s deep-seated love of the land is hardly surprising, given that it was nurtured from a young age. “My mother is a farmer, so my late brother and I used to spend many hours during school holidays and the weekends pretending that we, too, were farmers, herding the clay cattle we made,” she recalls. “There’s something about being around plants and animals, seeing them grow and reproduce, that brings me peace.”


Although she applied to study agriculture, she was working in construction when she established Ikusasalethu Agricultural Project with just one calf. That was back in 2014; by 2020, it was also producing yellow maize. The following year, she was joined in the venture by a shareholder and expanded further by planting sugar beans and soybeans.


“I never dreamed that the project would grow to this size,” Thokozile admits. “When I first started out, I really wanted to grow the number of cattle to five, and although I was challenged when some of my cows were stolen, I just kept pushing towards my goals.” That spirit of determination saw Thokozile use her entire savings to plant the current set of crops and keeps her focused on the 50ha of arable and grazing land Ikusasalethu now occupies.


This impressive growth has come at the cost of hard work and a dedication to problem-solving, Thokozile admits.


Farming is not a profession for the faint-hearted: among the challenges that she has little control over (like the effects of climate conditions, theft, price fluctuations and disease), she also has to contend with issues that often stymie entrepreneurs, like access to capital or inadequate resources; in this case, farming equipment and infrastructure.


“We currently hire all equipment, although we are hoping to buy our own in future as this would help to bring down business costs. We’re also looking to create storage facilities where we can store produce until prices go up,” she informs.


At the same time, sharing 300ha of farming land with her mother introduces an added dimension to the business. “Although our businesses are separate, we produce the same commodities on the same land. That can be challenging because funders don’t see us as different entities; they seek to fund one farm.” That said, there are certain benefits to this working relationship.


“Our income stays in the family, which is a big plus. And, because we trust each other and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, our decision-making processes are more simple.” Personal conflicts are sometimes inevitable, but Thokozile says that they have found a way to navigate arguments. Her own approach is to give the issue some distance before sitting down to find a solution.


With this strong foundation in place, Ikusasalethu’s growth seems assured. Thokozile reveals that she has exciting plans in store: “We’re hoping to secure grant funding which will allow us to build up our infrastructure, purchase our own land and equipment. Our next step will be to increase our range by introducing winter crops,” she informs.


This article was first published in Farmers Review Africa

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Thokozile Maphisa is a participant on Fetola’s Circular Economy Accelerator (CEA), a sustainability growth solution which empowers South African entrepreneurs to build successful, environmentally-sound businesses, in partnership with J.P. Morgan, the Embassy of Finland in Pretoria and Nedbank.

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