Nerudo Mregi opted to venture into farming after nearly 17 years in the information technology and software engineering fields, keen to combine data science and technology into this profession.
A side business partnership was established when his mother, Sudzai, mentioned that she wanted to start farming before she retired in 2019.
“So, I then just told her, you know, I think let’s just do this! She was very keen to start because she had already had the idea of starting a chicken business,” he recalls.
In 2020, Mregi obtained a bank loan and purchased a five-hectare farm in Springs. They began cultivating vegetables on the land with the help of his neighbor and sister. “We do commercial market gardening, so we grow kale, spinach, spring onion, pepper, lettuce, coriander, mint, oyster mushrooms and beetroot. We also farm with chickens on the farm,” he says.
He notes that they picked those veggies and herbs because they are in high demand in most families around the country right now.
Partnership bears fruit
The mother-and-son pair named their farm Mum and Son Farm, and they sell their food at three Food Lover’s Market locations in Johannesburg, as well as the Joburg Market.
He claims they became suppliers for these businesses just by being brave enough to walk into them and offer their wares to the owners. However, he admits that winning in the Joburg Market is difficult.
“We supply to the produce market, but because we don’t produce in large quantities, it’s harder for us to make it profitable. Essentially you are taking like 1 000 bundles of spinach and the market makes it very hard for you to predict how much you can make. So, you can’t really create a sustainable income,” he says.
He claims that his technology skills enabled him to farm efficiently. He is presently employed at Standard Bank in the financial services and information technology departments.
“Looking at data has always been my love,” he adds, “and I’ve always dabbled with IoT (internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence), predictive analytics and other things like that. So farming has really offered a fantastic opportunity because you’re practically forecasting what your crop will do, but you also want to track every component of your crop.”
Assessing the risks
Mregi notes that if there is a miscalculation, it might result in a loss from a crop that has been in the ground for three months. These risk assessments reminded him of his day job in certain ways.
One of the difficulties they faced was that their hens were dying as a result of temperature fluctuations.
Mregi notes that they were spending a lot of expenditures from much of the products they had, so they began utilising the programme to track every part of their production.
With this meticulous record-keeping, he was able to keep track of expenditures and match them to revenue using accounting concepts.
“We started counting that this number of plants took us this number of hours. We know that this amount of labour, water and drilling is needed, to a point where we can have a report of how successful we are from a measurable reporting basis. So that’s one of the things that we’ve recently employed,” he says.
The full story can be read at Food For Mzansi.