Up Close and Personal with Welile Gumede

WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT SO FAR?

Knowing that I have created an economy from scratch, where there was none before. We started with three of us and now I employ 17 people.

AND YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

I have messed up so often! I had disease outbreaks because I didn’t know any better. But my biggest regret is that I am spending more time at work than at home with my child. Once the business is running smoothly, I look forward to being there right next to her.

WHAT ROLE HAVE NEIGHBOURING FARMERS PLAYED IN YOUR JOURNEY?

None. They are mostly sugar-cane farmers, so we have no common interests.

HOW INVOLVED ARE INPUT SUPPLIERS IN YOUR OPERATION?

Coastal Farmers helped me understand farming. Their Farmers Agri-Care office offers agronomy consultations and I buy inputs from them.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF EQUIPMENT?

The pump room. It is the heart of everything. If you get it right there, there are fewer things you need to get right in the tunnels.

WAS IT A STRUGGLE TO GET FINANCING?

It is difficult to get funding when land is leased and your business is just starting. I was ready to give up on funding. Businesses like SAB are more understanding than funding institutions. Enterprise iLembe played a huge role by guiding me through the application process for funding.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM?

To own the land. When you’re starting out, you need funding and you can’t get it. As soon as you have something up and running, everyone is keen to fund you. I have 20 tunnels now and I’m at a point where I need my own land. It is risky always to build on and invest in someone else’s land.

ANY ADVICE FOR NEW FARMERS?

Don’t be afraid of learning. Attend webinars and seminars, watch YouTube videos, enter competitions. Most of these things are free. Be open to learning new things.

WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HAVE FOR THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE?

The Department of Agriculture should be more tech-savvy and quicker in their processes. When a business applies for funding or fertiliser, they need an answer within a week. The department should allow applications to be submitted via email. Currently, we have to submit them in person. So, somehow, in between running a business and making deliveries, we have to find the time to sit in their offices for hours on end.

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