Meet Beverly Mhlabane, a “Google egg farmer” who’s created a name for herself in the Benoni egg business in South Africa’s Gauteng province. The certified chemical engineer began farming in 2012 as a result of her dissatisfaction with the price of eggs in local retailers. She observed how expensive eggs were and decided to purchase ten laying hens to feed her family.
“After a few months, our neighbours wanted to purchase eggs, so we sold them, and that is how it all started,” says Mhlabane, owner of Zapa Farm in Benoni.
Her original goal was to raise 300 layer chickens in her carport every year. She had no idea that this would lead to her destiny: an agribusiness with two hectares of land and roughly 5 000 hens in 2014.
Mhlabane took a gamble in 2018 when she left from her profession as a chemical engineer to focus only on farming. She enhanced egg output by building two additional runs with enough space for 5 000 layer chickens.
“We have five different leafy greens and peppers as well. I am really proud of myself for taking this step of being a full-time farmer, especially considering that I am not a qualified farmer like my competitors. I am what people call a Google farmer. Everything I know is through [internet] research.”
Zapa Farm now caters to both formal and informal markets. The company doesn’t have any long-term contracts since it can’t meet commercial-scale numbers, according to Mhlabane.
Many shops in and around Benoni, however, are supplied by them. Many obstacles arose as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, including ever-increasing feed prices, which posed a threat to farmers all across the world.
“The price hikes on food have been a big challenge for us, but it’s not only affecting us. I understand that it is affecting all the farmers in their respective niches. Sustainable solutions are what we need. I am definitely looking into farming my own feed to solve this problem,” says Mhlabane.
She grew up in a neighbourhood where farming was not seen as a viable source of income, as the first farmer in her family. Her knowledge and profitability have earned her a slew of awards since then.
She’s now on a mission to emancipate township kids by introducing them to agriculture as a legitimate career option and teaching them that you don’t need a “white collar” job to be taken seriously in life.
“You know, most of the kids in the city and townships have never been to a farm. They have no idea where their eggs or basic veggies come from. They only see these items in the grocery store and at the dinner table. I used to go to schools and take these kids to the farm to give them that experience. You should see how their faces light up when they get to touch the soil and see the chickens first-hand.”
One of her current aims is to get AgriSETA qualified, which will enable Zapa Farm to provide training to individuals in need. This, she claims, will empower future farmers with the tools they need to start their own enterprises.
Zapa Farm presently employs two college interns, and Mhlabane hopes to expand the number of students who may receive valuable job experience.
The self-taught farmer is unstoppable, and she has enormous ambitions for 2022 and beyond. Her long-term objective as an engineer is to develop a powdered egg product that will extend the shelf life of eggs.
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