Vutlhari Chauke is not just a farmer, she's an agri-preneur
JOHANNESBURG - She is as hip as any young person her age. She wears a weave, earrings and trendy sneakers. But Vutlhari Chauke is no ordinary youngster.
She is a farmer making her name in this male-dominated industry.
Chauke owns VT Harvest, a Mogale city-based supplier of herbs such as baby fennel, coriander and wild rocket.
Chauke says her produce is generally used in the making of sauces and salads by chefs and other manufacturers.
She says she went into farming after identifying a gap for black women entrepreneurs in the agricultural industry.
Chauke says she spent months visiting farms to establish the most profitable ways of managing an agricultural products supply company.
In 2017 she decided to take the plunge. “It gives me joy to contribute in changing the trajectory of many impoverished families in communities where I operate,” she says. “I want to build a legacy for my children and create employment opportunities.”
But Chauke is also not an ordinary farmer.
She comes from a middle-class family in Limpopo with a computer programmer for a father and an educator for a mother. She spots an MBA from the UNISA Graduate School of Business Leadership and an extensive experience in the corporate world.
Chauke says her experiences in life have also shaped her determination to succeed.
“My parents separated when I was 4 years old,” she says. “So, I learnt independence and resourcefulness from that experience. I believe in myself. I am audacious and hard-working.”
Despite the separations, Chauke says, her parents insisted on education.
The encouragement paid off as she obtained 5 distinctions in matric before going on to study at the Central University of Technology in the Free State province.
Switching from the corporate world to agriculture was therefore not a problem because she had identified a niche in the high value crop market.
“I like challenges,” she says. “I realised, I don’t have funding, but funders will catch up with me along the way. I just wanted to be a successful black female farmer, build a successful brand.”
Chauke says most of her clients are in the affluent and manufacturing towns on Fourways, Randburg, Rosebank, Sandton, City Deep and Germiston. In Gauteng.
She says she has been able to grow the business because of her exposure to the corporate world where she worked as a business development executive.
It has not been an easy journey but Chauke credits the previous owner of the farm her company now owns for mentoring her.
She says the farmer taught her that in order for her venture to be successful, she needed to be willing to get her hands dirty and not wait for someone to do things for her.
“I am focused full time on the business,” she says. “We only had one processing house when we started, and now even our turnover annual income has tripled, which is great as a 100 percent black female-owned business.”
Her daily responsibilities, she says, include production planning, sales, quality control and customer relations management.
“We sell freshly harvested herbs in loose lugs to restaurants, vegetable retailers and wholesalers on Rand per kg model,” says Chauke.
What makes for success in her business? “Stock availability from production and quality of produce.”
Chauke says she works relentlessly to attract new customers as she is aware that they will become her business’ lifeline in the future.
Chauke calls herself an agri-preneur.
“I feel there was a gap for black female farmers in the agricultural supplies space,” she says. “I did my research, about such variables as costs of production.”
Today VT Harvest supplies various outlets in Gauteng.
It has also obtained the SAB (South African Breweries) Urban Agriculture program nomination.
But beyond all, Chauke says VT Harvest is a business.
“Without access to the market, farming would be a waste of time and resources,” she says.
Chauke says she also derives her strength from reading.
She is currently reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell which she says is teaching her that being an underdog is an opportunity to innovate and carve new models, and The Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.
Her advice to budding agri-preneurs is simple. “Don’t be afraid to fail.”