Farming ain’t for the faint-hearted. Just ask Sinethemba Ngoako who has learned many tough lessons early in her career. She does, however, remain committed to love the land she was entrusted with. As a beginner farmer, Sinethemba Ngoako knows all too well that farming can be rather ruthless. Often tragedy strikes when you least expect it – and the results can be emotionally and financially devastating.
“I never cried that much. I was completely heartbroken,” Ngoako says, recalling the moment when she realised that a neighbour’s cattle had destroyed her cabbages. She was just a month away from harvesting and just came back from a short trip to Johannesburg.
“This experience set me back and I was just starting my farming journey. To start this business, I used money that I set aside for my studies and this really tore me apart. It felt like I had lost everything. I almost gave up.”
Thankfully, Ngoako (25) kept on going. Today, she is one of the rising farm stars in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, and also a business management student at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Her studies teaches her that all businesses come with risks and losses. Nothing comes easy.
Walking in her grandfather’s footsteps
Ngoako was raised by her farmer grandparents after her mother passed away when she was just three. Her grandfather used to plant vegetables and fruits, and she learnt many valuable lessons as a child in the planting fields.
“They have taught me a lot, such as working hard and believing in myself,” she says, thanking God for the love and support she received from her grandparents.
Often she wonders where she would have ended up if it weren’t for their care. “My grandmother was a God-fearing woman. She taught me how to pray in good and in bad times. With my grandparents I never felt that I don’t have parents.”
Her grandfather shaped her farming journey. “My grandfather used to grow vegetables and sell them to our neighbours so we could have something to eat. We also used to have chickens.
“When [my grandfather] passed away, I thought his land must never go to waste, and I should continue with his legacy and make it even bigger.”Sinethemba Ngoako
The future is bright
Ngoako was born and raised in Kranskop, about 100km outside Pietermaritzburg. Her farm is situated in Untunjambili and she mainly grows vegetables, including potatoes, green peppers and cabbages.
Although she only started farming in 2020, her business has grown in leaps and bounds. She is already supplying local supermarkets such as Aheers, Siyabonga and Kwasizabantu, as well as feeding schemes. Also, she already employs four people.
Ngoako describes herself as a self-taught farmer who has learned loads from the internet as well as the school of life.
“I like to describe myself as a strong and independent woman that is capable of doing anything. I don’t give up and the fact that I am a young woman doesn’t limit me in achieving my goals. Hence, I have started farming on my own.”
Farming fills her with so much joy despite the many difficulties she faces. Her advice to other aspirant farmers? Work hard. Very, very hard. Take one step at a time and always believe in yourself.
“You must put God first in everything you are doing. Work hard on your dreams and stop complaining about farming. Just start small and the rest will follow. And don’t be afraid to fail because with failure we learn.”