As a boy growing up in the hamlet Dannhauser, in KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Sphamandla Mhlope was responsible for ensuring that his family had food. “With no one working at home, we had to grow and take care of our own food from the backyard garden,” the 23-year-old University of the Free State (UFS) Master’s student in Curriculum studies – said.

That spurred the idea of Allen Farm Agri, which he says is “Like AirBnB, but for gardens.”

“The culture of growing our own food has died in recent years, with people no longer using their back yards or any tract of open land. This exposes communities to food insecurity, brutal hunger, and unemployment.” Mhlophe told the judging panel at the EDHE Intervarsity 2022 on 17 November, that he believed that localised agriculture and empowerment would be a significant force for long-term food security and job creation. It would also help in the fight against hunger.

He described Allen Farm Agri’s business model:

  • We negotiate on the use of land
  • We provide resources for effective and efficient production
  • We employ local youth to plant, maintain and harvest
  • We sell fresh produce to local tuck-shops, fast food restaurants, and directly to customers via Facebook or WhatsApp.

Mhlophe said for starters, they researched on the vegetables most eaten in communities they had gardens in. “We found onions, potatoes, cabbage and spinach,” and those are what they went on to produce.

This business went on to earn him a First Runner-up win in the Existing Business, Social Impact Category, after Munashe Dzikiti.

The young entrepreneur said he was in the process of developing a micro app based on the Moya and Ayoba apps because his team’s research showed that these apps were used more than Facebook.

“This gives us data-free access to a market of 6,5-million active daily users. It also gives us data-free access to advertising and data-free online sales platform. Our visibility, feasibility and desirability survey was done by the UCT Graduate School of Business Solution Space.

“In that programme, we are part of the top 15 startups in Africa that were deemed ready and fit for scalability.” 

Part of Mhlophe’s five-year plan is to partner with schools, most of which have abundant land that lies dormant — to grow fresh produce on.  

“To improve our levels of production and profitability, we are implementing a “No-Dig approach with our own developed and recycled compost. To ensure environmental sustainability and recycling, we are introducing traditional hydroponic production, using tyres.” (They use the tyre as a protected planting sphere.)

This, he said, would increase levels of production and bring down costs. He told the judges: “We want to scale up to cover three more districts in KZN. We also want to bootstrap and hire bigger land. Our water problems will be solved by existing borehole taps in the community which are no longer in use. We will place pumps in them, and children playing on the roundabouts will pump the water. This is part of our capital budget.”

Judge, Sakhile Xulu, Managing Partner at Seed South Capital said: “Well done, I love everything about it.” Ms Chantal Lee-Ann Terry, General Manager and Head of Operations, Fetola, said: “I love the idea of bringing tyres in. it’s a holistic model. Well done.”

Building on the Airbnb concept, Mhlophe said: “It is interesting how people are now offering us their lands and backyard gardens. We are up and running with three gardens already planted for Agricultural Year 2022. We will use our R10 000 winnings to help implement this.”

He comes from a big family of thirteen, headed by his grandmother. His mother died when he was a child. 

Sustainability guarantees future food supply

Passionate about sustainability and reducing the effects of climate change, Mhlophe said: “As farmers, the planet is our bread and butter. Bad climate and extreme weather conditions mean we are going out of business or at least shrinking our operations. Saving the climate means saving jobs, which means ensuring food security for our people.

He called EDHE a family community. “It is dedicated to empowerment, mentoring, and activating students’ businesses to take them to even greater heights. Mr Mothibi Mojaki is the UFS Student Entrepreneurship Coordinator who, from day one of submitting our internal rounds competition, started giving us support and guidance. Mr Sandile Shabalala has always been a phone call away whenever I had questions and needed clarification. I’m truly grateful.”

His team includes Lindelani Magubane, Thembelihle Ntuli, Sibonelo Mdunge, the twins Siboniso and Sibonelo Mndaweni, Nomfundo Makhathini, Sphesihle Mhlophe and Lindokuhle Mkhize.

Second Runner up in Existing Business – Social Impact

Recycling tyres to stop environmental degradation is the core of this business.

Mr Benathi Makiyela, 25, wants to be an instrumental player in reducing the environmental pollution in the world. To this end, he wants to put an end to the burning of noxious tyres that add to global warming, and concomitantly, climate change.

This final-year Agricultural Economics student at the University of Fort Hare is the owner of Makiyela Recycling, a company that recycles tyres in Mount Frere in the rural Eastern Cape

They treat black rubber rings and turn them into furniture and a host of other products.

He hopes to service the tourism and hospitality industry, schools, hair salons, car washes, etc.  “We want to recycle and repurpose tyres. After treating them, they become unique, environmentally friendly pieces of furniture that can be used for indoor and outdoor spaces.”

As importantly, this creates job opportunities for people in rural, under-resourced areas.

Makiyela said that it took three to five working days to produce four chairs and a table at a cost of R3 500.  “We ask for a 43% deposit before we begin production. We use 25% of the remaining 57% for wages. The rest of the money – R1 500 – is profit which goes back into the business.”

Makiyela Recycling was conferred a 2nd Runner up win in the Existing Business, Social Impact Category, after Munashe Dzikiti and Sphamandla Mhlope.

During his pitch, he said if he won the overall prize of R120 000 – he would spend it on admin, research, transportation, electricity and water. However, the most important capital need was a sewing machine, which he said he would buy with his R10 000 prize money.

“Once we have that machine, we can focus on introducing our indoor furniture line – sofas from tyres, which will attract a wider target market.” He added that his business desperately needed a bakkie, both for tyre collection and furniture delivery.

Judge Sakhile Xulu, Managing Partner at Seed South Capital asked: “How much furniture have you made, so far, and how much have you sold?” Makiyela said they had started during the difficult period of the pandemic lockdown. “We sold six sets of furniture and made R30 000 profit.” However, they suffered four burglaries which set back the business back considerably, in 2021.

Xulu asked if he had contacted the tyre manufacturers to inquire if they would fund his business. “See what obligations they have for cleaning up the environment. Maybe you could tap into their funding. The job creation potential for what you are doing is immense.”

In response to another judge’s question, Makiyela said they also produced flowerpots, animal feeding troughs, mirrors and bookstands out of recycled tyres.

In support of Xulu’s idea, Judge Lukhanyo Neer, Chairperson at Heavy Chef Foundation advised on funding: “The best way is not necessarily through investment funds… I would say you should tap into Enterprise Development funds and Socio-economic development funds.”

In response, Makiyela said following that idea would require him to relocate to East London. 

What inspired Makiyela Recycling?

This business idea arose during a conversation with a friend in 2017, on the negative impact of burning tyres. Born “in the dusty streets of Mount Frere,” starting a business was important to him. His mother is unemployed, and his father died in 2016. He also felt that as a student of the ‘inspiring’ University of Fort Hare — the home of legends and the mother of Africa’s well-known leaders– he was perfectly positioned to begin a business. 

He warned young entrepreneurs that business theory is completely different from “what is on the ground. Always stick to your vision, whatever the circumstances.” He called the EDHE programme “one of the great initiatives to showcase student abilities across the country. The platform plays a vital role in tackling South Africa’s unemployment and poverty.”

He gave special thanks to Mr Mogen Naidoo, one of the regional round judges “for showing an interest in my business and motivating me to continue with it. In fact, his words made me realize that I wanted to make a difference.”

His team consists of Mthandazo Dyantyi (CFO), Silindokuza Ngqasa (lawyer), Mphumezi Makiyela (Supervisor), Ntsika Mfamana (Manager).

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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