Though Kepas Melodi’s farming enterprise started off small, it has since grown into a sizeable operation that has seen him operate from communal land, based in Hazyview and employ nine people full-time. He’s also managed a partnership with a major retailer and learnt valuable lessons.
His is a story that may motivate other would-be farmers and entrepreneurs.
He was inspired to start farming in 2003 when he identified a shortage of fresh spinach produce in the fresh produce market in Hazyview, where he worked at the time.
The demand for the product and its subsequent lack of supply is what launched him on a quest to sow the seeds and start the business.
When it came to funding his farming, Melodi dug into his own pocket.
“My business is self-funded. I saved some money while I was still working at the fresh produce market in Hazyview, and slowly built up my business over time,” he says.
At first, he sold his spinach to the fresh produce markets and through hawkers. But then in 2012, he managed to sell a few crates of green beans and mielies to selected Shoprite and Checkers stores in the Gauteng region, and a partnership was born.
He now harvests and supplies approximately three tons of spinach to the Shoprite Group a year, where it is sold at not more than R22 (excludes baby spinach prices).
Even so, he explains that a big harvest of the same product had its own unique challenges.
“When stock was flooded at the market and the buyer could not take everything from me, I would have to try to sell my excess stock, which was challenging from a collection point of view, and a lot went to waste.”
Melodi has been supplying to Shoprite for almost 10 years now, and because of the buyer-and-farmer relationship that he has established with the retailer over these years, he has a better idea of when and what to plant in order to reap maximum benefit from the land.
He now has big plans.
“I have plans underway to also start farming cabbage and beetroot. My business is working so much better now. I can supply the buyers with what they want, and the proceeds of my hard work are going directly into the bank.”
Melodi says farming takes a long time to generate money, and he is “constantly re-investing money back into the business.”
Through his long-standing partnership with the group, he receives information on market-related issues like suggestions on the type of seeds that should be planted when certain products become scarce. He is also advised on opportunities when farmers elsewhere cannot supply products.
“They also help me look at environmental issues, such as crop cycles, and to make informed decisions.”
During a time when many entrepreneurs were forced to discontinue their business, Melodi commends the support he receives from Shoprite, saying it enabled his business to survive Covid-19 woes.
“This relationship has helped me a lot and for me, nothing has changed significantly. I have a good relationship with Shoprite and I speak to them often. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. When I plant, I have some certainty and know where I am taking it,” he says.