He supplies retail stores with capsules and other by products from the 1500 trees on his farm
NOT even his dream of becoming a metallurgist could stand in his way of tapping into the entrepreneurial sector after stumbling upon a moringa crop by chance.
Alwin Makhale from Tshivhilwi in Limpopo has founded the Alwin General Trading – an organic farming and agro-processing company which distributes AA Moringa capsules, powder, teabags and skin oil
The products are made from the leaves of the moringa plant which are first dried up under the shade and then crushed.
The moringa business idea grew so successful that the 26-year-old Makhele chopped down a dream career as a metallurgical engineer to focus on his farming project.
“When I was home for the semester break in 2014, a family member brought the plant home and explained its benefits,” said Makhele, who was studying at the Vaal University of Technology at the time.
“I then conducted extensive research about moringa, discovering valuable information about the plant’s leaves and seeds which then prompted me to start the company,” he said.
During the third African Farmers Association of SA (AFASA) Agri-business Transformation conference this month, Minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza highlighted some of the challenges still experienced by historically disadvantaged farmers as entry barriers are still the same though she believes the scale may be different.
Didiza said access to land, water, research, technology, infrastructure, mechanisation, agro-logistics, markets and finance remain challenges that must be continuously addressed.
Meanwhile, businessman and billionaire Patrice Motsepe, who was also in attendance, announced that SA’s emerging black farmers will benefit from a multi-billion rand fund he intends to establish.
The fund will focus wholly on agriculture, farming and other related industries.
For this qualified metallurgist to finance his business, he had to use his National Research Fund (NRF) bursary stipends which he had acquired as a final year student.
Coupled with some of his personal savings, Alwin General Trading kick-started with a R20 000 start-up capital in 2014 when it was established.
Determined to succeed, he eventually purchased some machinery and a 3-hectare farm at Tshifudi village where he has cultivated 1 500 plants of moringa.
The company also received assistance from the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) in getting its products approved by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).
Makhale went on to receive training from other institutions that specialise in moringa including the Moringa Development Association of Southern Africa (MDASA) which broadened his passion in farming.
Realising his growing passion for farming, after working for almost two years as an engineer, he decided to quit his job in 2016 to focus on his business on a full-time basis.
However, just like most entrepreneurs who can attest to the hardships that come with the entrepreneurship journey, Makhale shared the same sentiments.
“Initially, the machines we were using to manufacture the products were small resulting in small scale production. Small machines make the labour a bit unbearable because work that can be done in an hour ends up being produced in five hours.
“I realised that if ever we had waited to buy bigger machines for us to continue working, we might get delayed. Currently, we have medium scale ones (machines) which are not that bad because we are able to be productive and supply our products to customers on time,” he said.
The journey has proven itself to be a fulfilling one thus far after he scooped two awards for being the Top Producer under the Processing category, both at the regional and provincial levels in the 2019 District Young Aspirant Farmers Awards.
The awards, which were hosted by the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in June, saw Makhale walk away with a total prize money of R160 000.
In June 2018, he was named Top Producer by the Thulamela municipality, receiving a laptop accompanied by three certificates.
The company has two permanent and five seasonal employees. Its target market includes pharmaceuticals, health stores and individual independent distributors.
“Currently, we supply the products to four pharmaceuticals around Vhembe and 60 independent distributors across the country. We also supply raw materials to companies that produce moringa products but do not grow it.”
With his business doing well and the future looking bright, , Makhale is not thinking of going back into the working world anytime soon.
“Maybe one day I might return as an investor in the mining and steel industry,” Makhale said.
“I see a lot of progress so far and with so much positive feedback the company has been getting, I feel the satisfaction at the end of the day,” he said.
In the long run, he hopes to grow the company into a large marketing network group due to the demand from independent distributors. He also plans to open some few retail stores nationwide. –Mukurukuru Media.