Up Close and Personal with Tshilidzi “Chilli” Matshidzula

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Never underestimate the value of networks. And I was told never to give up by my former mentor Leonard Mavhungo at a time when I wanted to leave all this and go back home.

If you could have done one thing differently, what would it be?

I should have invested in people earlier in my career, because I have since realised I could have grown much faster by developing people and sharing responsibilities.

Your biggest success to date?

Finding myself at the stage where I viewed my heroes as equals. Another highlight was sharing a stage with mega farmers from across the globe as a speaker at the South African Large Herds Conference.

Who has made the biggest contribution to your success so far?

I can’t single out one person, but my parents played a big role in the success I am today. My mentors, Leonard and Walter Biggs, who is also my partner, were also instrumental in my success.

What kind of relationship do you have with your neighbouring farmers?

We generally have a good relationship with the neighbours. Although we cannot be best friends with all the farmers, we work together towards a common goal. We also cannot ignore some realities regarding race in the farming community – it is a factor as far as relationships are concerned.

Was it a struggle to get financing? What advice would you offer someone in need of funds?

This has been one of the biggest challenges for our business. Finding money can prove to be a difficult task, especially as a beginner farmer. Getting support from the government can be impossible at times and commercial banks also are a challenge. My advice for emerging farmers is to start where you are and with what you have, the rest will follow.

What role do input suppliers like animal health companies play in your business?

Most of our input suppliers are like partners. They play an integral role because their contribution, especially in knowledge and skills transfer, is immeasurable.

What advice would you give the minister of agriculture if you could?

The country’s youth needs role models. It is not impossible to find them, because there are lots of examples of people who – against the odds – have worked extremely hard without any support to build what today are exemplary farming entities. Find those, and support and invest in them unapologetically.

How important has organised agriculture been to your success?

In any industry that has organised structures, as a role player yourself, you have to be part of those structures. We participate as members of the Milk Producers Organisation, Agri SA and other local structures at a study-group level. This is where we find our voice and build networks that are more valuable than the bank balance.

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