Women in Agriculture: The Sibiya sisters are doing it for themselves

When they were young, Simamele and Siphindile Sibiya, and Nandisa Mpanza learned to tend a farm from their grandmothers, who often included them in her vegetable garden. The girls didn't consider farming a viable career option at the time. They chose to study agricultural science only after they reached high school. Following this, they completed internships in the agricultural and hydrological fields.

Nandisa Mpanza, Siphindile and Simamele Sibiya

"We have always wanted to farm since we were in college," says Siphindile. "Our original plan was to work to acquire sufficient funds first, and then start a farming business. Unfortunately, there was no hope of finding a job and so we looked into creating our own business."

The Beginning 

Growing up, the siblings dreamt of starting a business together. They explored a variety of business opportunities in pursuit of their dream. Unfortunately, none of them proved successful. When they saw an opportunity to own and run a farm business together, they took it. In their view, this was an opportunity to build a real business for themselves. 

"Prior to starting our farming business, we registered a few businesses as co-ops, but nothing worked out," says Simamele. "This is the first business we have had success with." 

The agripreneur sisters started Maliyeza Productivity Pty Ltd, a farming company based out of Louwsburg, Vryheid (what year did you start the farm- 2019). The three agripreneurs lease 15ha, and they have an extra 40ha available for expansion.

"We currently use a portion of a farm owned by a community," says Siphindile". "Due to the fact that the community was not using the whole farm and was unable to pay the electricity bill alone, it became necessary to negotiate a half-way rent agreement."

With money from their savings accounts, the girls bought sweet potato cuttings from another farmer in Nongoma. 

"As we didn't have enough funds to start individual farms, we pooled together to start small," Nandisa says. "Based on our research, we realised we didn't need a lot of investment to start our operations."  

Except for the Sibiya sisters, there is no other employee at the farm at the moment. Seasonal workers are employed depending on demand and operations. Siphindile is the chairperson and manager of the farm, responsible for daily tasks in the farm and crop programmes. Nandisa handles the legal documentation of the company and marketing. Simamele is responsible for the bookkeeping and quality control. 

Their extension officer, Zama Zulu from the Department of Agriculture Zululand District, arranged the transport for them to pick up the cuttings. They then paid for the cuttings, labour, and diesel. 

"We met Mr. Zulu after my former teacher, Mr. T. S. Mazibuko, from my high school suggested we get in touch with the Agricultural Office to introduce ourselves, and they will assign us an extension officer who can guide us in farming," says Simamele.

While the sisters admit that the process of starting a business with a family member is just as challenging as you might expect, it turns out that having a family member as a business partner can really pay off.

"Our business partnerships are interdependent, so we always make sure we are on the same page, Nandisa says. "Being on the same page makes it easy to step in and contribute when one of us is unavailable."  

A Thriving Business

After discovering that vines are cheap and easy to maintain, they purchased potato seeds. To begin, the Sibiya women planted sweet potatoes. As they gained experience and became more confident in themselves, their thoughts soon turned to expanding. 

"The farm expanded to include cabbage, tomatoes, beans, and butternuts," Siphindile tell us. "We decided to do it conventionally because it is a better way for budding commercial farmers and chemicals are easily available, even cheaper than organic at a larger scale. They plant a variety of crops to reduce risks, and they also rotate their crops to benefit their soil. 

"Our crops have been doing well so far, though we've had to give up cabbage and tomatoes," Simamele says. "The Butternuts once didn't do well on the market because it was their season when the market was flooded. We're rearranging our planting schedule, so we'll harvest when the market is less flooded."

The Selling Strategy

The ladies sell their produce in Louwsburg communities, Nongoma Town, Ulundi Town, and Vryheid Town. 

"We advertise everything we do, from land preparation to dispatching quality produce on social media," Nandisa shares. "We find our customers on Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram. We also display our sample produce at local markets, and people place orders after seeing them. We also have a spot where we park our van, and we sell our products in bulk from there."

They also ensure that their books are up-to-date to keep track of profit or loss for the business, and to pay annual returns and receive them if they have them.

Although they don't have a mentor, they heavily rely on the farming community for guidance and assistance.

"Farming is a community and in a community, you help each other grow," Simamele and Siphindile tells us.  "There are other farmers with more experience in the field we reach out to, and it is a pleasure to usually get the help we need through social media." 

Success is possible but not easy 

While the sisters have achieved success, it hasn't been easy. But they learned to push through. When asked for their thoughts on what challenges they have faced in the business, they replied that setting up the business has been the biggest challenge. 

"There were many hurdles - from the legal documents, to the land, and then getting stable buyers," Simamele says. "Although the process was challenging, we accepted the responsibilities and followed all procedures diligently."

When asked for key factors in their success, the sisters said they would want to share those things with others just starting out in the business.

"You know as a small business owner that running a business is hard work," Nandisa says. "You need to be self-confident. Confidence comes from knowing yourself and your abilities. To manage your own business, you need to be goal-driven, dedicated, and focused. Running a business does not always go as planned."  

As the agriculture industry changes constantly to meet customer needs, farmers should not stop learning.

"In this industry, education is very important; it does not have to be tertiary education," Siphindile says. "Attending farmer's workshops is also very important. Things are always changing, improving, upgrading. We are constantly learning."

Moreover, they encourage new farmers to persevere, even when it's hard.

"It's not easy, but it's doable," Simamele says. "Don't give up; eventually the hard work will pay off. Try to make the best of your resources and set goals for yourself. By utilising your resources effectively, you will succeed in your plans."

Mission and Vision 

For many farmers, there is no work-life balance. Most of them work over 60, 80, or 100 hours per week building their farms, managing their teams, and meeting customer demands-and there's still more to do. So how do the ladies do it?

"After a hard day's work, we always take some time for ourselves," Siphindile says. "It is important to us not to overwork ourselves. so we make sure that we take care of our health."

The company was started with nothing but personal savings, and it was this foundation that defined Maliyeza Productivity Pty Ltd values and success. But where do they go from here?

"We want to create stable jobs by exporting our products," the sisters share. "Our mission is to diversify our farming activities and help aspiring young farmers succeed."

To get in touch with the ladies:  

Maliyeza: Facebook and Instagram

Siphindile Sibiya: Facebook and Instagram

Simamele Sibiya: Facebook and Instagram

Nandisa Mpanza: Facebook and Instagram