“White people owned the land and Black people only worked in their gardens or fields.” That’s what Njabulo Mbokane once thought about agriculture but not anymore. Njabulo knew that her family couldn’t afford to send her to college so she had to find another way. She started out selling fish and chips on the corner of a gas station but now she employs three people fulltime and another 13 during the busy harvesting season, as a farmer in South Africa. Njabulo grows corn on over 500 acres of farmland and recently, ventured into livestock on another 64 acres.
Njabulo was able to sell enough fish and chips to scratch out a living but she wanted more. Her interest in agriculture was sparked when a friend told her that he intended to study agriculture. Njabulo had begun working at a local school’s vegetable garden. The school’s garden had effectively stopped operating because of financial constraints but Njabulo offered to cover the costs to reboot the operation, so she could gain more farming experience. Njabulo was able to grow a variety of foods, including lettuce, spinach, carrots and cauliflower. Njabulo knew she could do even more but she needed more training. She was fortunate to receive assistance to study at an agricultural training institute.
Njabulo wasn’t an overnight success, however. She started by leasing five acres to grow soy beans — the crop failed. Next she partnered with a commercial farmer, who was able to provide machinery and other inputs. Njabulo took on an additional 37 acres and this time it worked. She was able to sell her crop to Rand Agri, a bulk trader in the southern African grain markets. Njabulo leased an additional 494 acres in 2018 and took part in the South African Breweries (SAB) farmer development program, in partnership with a Black owned agricultural services company, FarmSol. The program seeks to attract young farmers but also requires them to produce corn — fortunately Njabulo had close to 500 acres to play with.
Njabulo was given the Young Emerging Farmer of the Year Award by SAB. She is also branching out into livestock, a venture she hopes will ultimately lead to an agricultural incubator for people who are interested in agriculture and young farmers. Njabulo started out selling fish and chips to feed her son. Her family didn’t have the means to pay for her education. Despite all these obstacles, at 24 years of age, she’s a boss.