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Nkomamota Organic Farmers Group: Dianah Shivambu

A former teacher takes up organic farming and secures success.

Juliet Pitman

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Dianah Shivambu of Nkomamota Organic Farmers Group

Dianah Shivambu never imagined she’d be a farmer. But it’s a profession that suits the former schoolteacher down to the ground – and one in which she’s enjoying enormous success. Hers is a story that proves that nothing is impossible in business if one has passion, dedication and a willingness to learn.

She’s turned the Limpopo family-owned farm into a successful enterprise and managed to secure access to lucrative organic markets in the process.

“I knew nothing about farming when I started,” Shivambu says, but her combination of self-motivation and desire to learn has meant opportunities have found her. Cashing in part of her teacher’s pension in 2005, Shivambu used R80 000 to purchase 1 000 chickens and equipment.

She also joined a group of 18 emerging farmers called the Nkomamota Organic Farmer’s group, and was given the opportunity to attend a week’s worth of training at the Agricultural Research Council on organic farming methods, the cost of which was covered by government.

But perhaps one of the most important relationships she’s forged to date is one with SA Agri Academy (SAAA), an NGO that provides market information, training, business advice and coaching, and strategic market linkages for emerging farmers in the agricultural sector.

“SA Agri sources funding and this meant that my training with them was free of charge,” says Shivambu. Through SAAA, she has been sent to the Netherlands and Britain to learn about how organic farmers are securing commercial success.

But learning how to farm is only half the battle won; one of the biggest challenges emerging farmers face is gaining access to markets, and a lack of critical business skills. But in 2006 Shivambu was lucky enough to be selected to attend SAAA’s Market Development Programme.

“What I learned on that course has been critical to the success of my farm as a business. It taught me to understand things like input cost, break-even points and profit margins, all of which I have used to negotiate fair, market-related prices,” she says.

Through SAAA she’s also learned the importance of being HACCP-certified (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), of following Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and about things like fair trade. “All of this gears us to be able to access international markets as well,” she says.

Shivambu lists national supermarket chain Pick ‘n Pay as one of her most important clients, no mean feat given how difficult it is for small start-up producers to secure such big contracts. “The large supermarket chains, which is where we all want to be, require consistent volumes, and many emerging farmers aren’t yet able to produce what’s required.”

To address this challenge, Shivambu has been instrumental in forming farm clusters that can produce volumes needed to get their foot in the door. The Limpopo Organic Farmers Association, of which Shivambu is an executive member,plays a key role in this regard, as well as offering mentorship to other emerging farmers.

Shivambu’s farm has grown steadily, thank sto the training she’s received and the effort she’s put into ensuring she meets all organic standards. Her brood of chickens has grown to 6 000, and she produces brinjals, butternut, red and brown onions and cherry tomatoes.

“We have some baby marrows germinating as well.” Currently she only farms two hectares of her 124 in total, but she has big plans for development. In the short-term she plans to farm 15 hectares of land, has built a lodge and is planning a conference centre which will be open to the public.

“What I need now is my own packaging house so that I can own the full value chain, from growing right through to packaging and delivery.” For that, she’ll need capital, but if her track record is anything to go by, Shivambu’s just the person to find a way.“As they say, a boer maak a plan!” she laughs. Contact: +27 72 1222 576

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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