KwaZulu-Natal-born entrepreneur Nokulunga Zondi says SLE Farming is still trying to access funding, giving up is not an option. Photo: Supplied

CAPE TOWN – Although KwaZulu-Natal-born entrepreneur Nokulunga Zondi has no background in agriculture, growing up in a rural village where everyone farms for a living ignited her passion to make a difference in the smallholder farming sector through her agri-tech business.

Zondi, is the managing director of Cape Town-based youth-owned business SLE (Spes Legacies) Farming, established in 2016. She hails from a village in KwaZulu-Natal called Tugela Ferry. “I grew up there and almost every family was involved in informal farming activities as a way to generate an income,” said Zondi.

She left her village in 2008 to study at UCT and would return home every year for the duration of her studies.

“The one year I went home, I was just struck by this scary realisation that many of the people that were farming were old gogos and that they had been farming since I was a baby but had nothing to show for their hard work,” she said.

The thought that the residents were as poor as when she had left the village bothered her, she said, and she started researching and reading up about informal farming activities in South Africa and the challenges that smallholder farmers are confronted with in the country.

“I started asking myself what could they be doing wrong and what is my role as a young person who’s left the village and been privileged enough to get a good education in helping my gogos and the mamas there to become more empowered as individuals, women and farmers. After a couple of months of research, I was confident that I had found the problem of the farmers in my area,” said Zondi.

She said the problem was that the farmers did not have access to sufficient land to farm, to have enough yields to sell to external markets and also did not have irrigation in their fields, because of the lack of access to a constant supply of electricity to run the pumps needed for irrigating their crops.

Zondi said another problem was that the farmers all planted the same crops, harvested at the same time and would go to sell their produce in the same local market at the same price as their competitor.

“So we came up with the Haibo app in which we wanted to virtualise the agricultural supply chain for our farmers to be able to trade on, get learning material, have access to their government in real time as their farming problems arise and most of all to be able to exchange indigenous knowledge among themselves.”

She said although SLE Farming is still trying to access funding, giving up is not an option.