Starting small put Mathebula on a path to prosperity

In 2017, Sanele Mathebula from Mpumalanga found himself at a crossroads. Despite holding a marketing diploma from Boston College, he encountered difficulty securing employment. This sparked an idea in him to venture into crop farming.

“After spending time and money on college, not securing a job was stressful. Dealing with unemployment is challenging, especially considering the effort I put into earning my qualification.”

Today, Mathebula farms on 15 hectares of land of which only four hectares are used to cultivate cabbage, spinach, chilies and peppers. He supplies his produce to local supermarkets in large quantities.

Sowing seeds of faith and hard work

“I never imagined that I would be able to supply vegetables to supermarkets but now I’m doing just that. The feeling of being able to contribute to the food supply chain is incredibly rewarding and has inspired me to grow my business further.”

To think it all started with money he borrowed from his mother that resulted in him planting 15 000 cabbage seedlings. With all his money and faith in his venture, New Style Farming was born.

By 2020, Mathebula’s name started featuring in all the right circles, leading him to supply fresh produce to Spar in Elukwatini. Slowly expanding in 2022, he further grew his business and started providing vegetables to Boxer Super Store in Elukwatini, to local shops, and vegetable stalls, and selling directly to the community.

A good start is important

According to Mathebula, farming is a timeless and dependable business because it provides for people’s everyday needs. He encourages those with a passion for the industry to start small and build from there.

“Start with what you have, whether it’s a small patch of land or a few seeds. And don’t try to do everything all at once,” he advises.

He explains that good produce starts with the selecting the right seeds and understanding your environment and the crops best suited for it. But starting your own business comes with a lot of sacrifices and Mathebula knows this all too well.

“Being your own boss requires discipline. It’s not all about waking up at 12 p.m. when you feel like it. It takes hard work and focus to make your business a success.

“Treat your business like you want it to succeed and put in the effort needed to make that happen,” he says.

Mathebula emphasises the invaluable support he received from fellow farmers, underscoring the significance of engaging with both local and online farming communities to exchange knowledge and resources.

“No one knows everything, so it’s beneficial to learn from others in the same field. Farming is a long-term process, and it may take time to see financial returns.”

His farming journey was guided by the expertise of a local farmer, Gideon Thango, who currently operates in Standerton. Despite his lack of prior experience and initially observing farming from a distance, Mathebula found fulfilment in farming.

Mathebula has grown as a farmer since starting and is proud to have earned a certificate from the Smallholder Agricultural Growing Association of Producers for crop cultivation.

His vision for agro-processing

With a forward-thinking approach, he is delving into agro-processing, currently navigating the intricacies of producing chilli sauce.

Mathebula is serious about growing his business. “I have auditors that visit every year to ensure I keep up with standards.”

Over the past five years, he’s employed five permanent staff, with additional seasonal workers. Looking ahead, he hopes to expand the team further. And if resources permit, he plans to utilise all 15 hectares of land.

With careful planning and a vision for the future, Mathebula is well on his way to grow even higher and higher.