Maropeng Mashalane is a young black farmer from Limpopo who aims to root out poverty through farming. After completing his matric at the top of his class, he went on to study a Bachelor of Science but found himself unemployed upon completion. We spoke to him about his journey from growing up in a rural village to setting up a successful farm of his own.
Ndibulele Sotondoshe: Thanks for taking the time to do this with us. For those who don’t know, who is Maropeng?
Maropeng Mashalane: Maropeng is a courageous, optimistic young man who grew up in a remote village in the Bochum area, 87km north-west of Polokwane. I worked as a teacher for a few months until my entrepreneurial instinct kicked in. I went back to campus, and opened a restaurant with a friend. After the restaurant didn’t work out I then went to farming, to actually manufacture the food that is being sold at restaurants.
NS: How would you describe growing up in the village?
MM: It was a remote rural area, where almost every household had goats, cattle, and sheep as a standard commodity. I think the reason why a passion for farming took some time to show in me was because we did not have any livestock at home; my father was a teacher and my mother worked for an NGO. My folks were the typical “go to school, get a job” kind of parents. And since I was one of the brightest pupils in school, they wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer.
NS: Your farm, Bakone Farms, deals mostly with livestock. What inspired it?
MM: When I first started, a friend of mine from varsity had pigs over at his parents’ house, so I asked him to loan me two piglets, a male and a female, which I kept in my parents’ backyard. And that is where my journey as a farmer began.
NS: Is this something you were always passionate about when you were growing up?
MM: It always has been, but I did not think I was going to fully be a farmer in my school days when I did botany and zoology at the University of Limpopo. I didn’t think I would really take it as an actual career, especially being self-employed. I think I grew into it, and with unemployment also taking a toll on our country, I decided to join hands with those who were working on creating jobs for the youth and ultimately empowering them.
NS: Talking about creating jobs, you’re expanding your business to the Eastern Cape now. What inspired that move?
MM: After launching our 12-month piglet programme, it had so much support and demand to expand to other provinces. The first alliance we made was with a young woman in East London who already had an operational farm, so we made an alliance to expand and to also have a closer reach to people from East London. We aim to have branches all over the country, with a large footprint to enable us and people in our ‘family’ to take our own market share swiftly in the value chain, with enough production output.
NS: What are some of the challenges that emerging farmers, black in particular, face?
MM: Some of the challenges include access to resources, finance and markets. In order to fully penetrate the value chain we need to come together as black people and collectively establish our own brand, and market share, as we are the majority of the country’s population. Information is also not very easily accessible to most, especially those that live in rural areas.
NS: What would you say has been your greatest achievement so far?
MM: We have introduced rabbit meat to the market, which people seem to love. We have our own vegetable atchar, and our famous pork which we mostly sell to our niche market around Polokwane and Gauteng, with our unique “from farm to table” concept. We have an online blog on which we post recipes on how to cook rabbit meat as it is still a relatively new concept in South Africa, though most of us grew up eating the wild rabbit from the hunting days. We also managed to get an Interview on Metro FM.
NS: What words of encouragement do you want to give to someone reading this?
MM: Things might really seem like a mountain of impossibilities, but once you set your mind to start, and start small, you grow. All you need is the right amount of positive energy and a clear vision of where you see yourself going. They say Rome wasn’t built in one day – build your own Rome, brick by brick, Rand by Rand. You don’t need funding to start, just start where you are, start with what you have, and put that passion in there. Let success happen. “The courage to grow is business.”
Tell us: What do you think about Maropeng’s story?