Sizwe PhungwayoBy Sizwe Phungwayo|November 26, 2021|8 Minutes|In Risk and Glory

Risk and Glory

"The Day I saw The Future"

I don’t know where to start. Maybe it was the moment I handed in my resignation in a comfortable corporate job to take a giant leap into clucking world of chicken farming.

What I recall is my boss wasn’t pleased at all! Nor were family, friends and the acquaintances who knew how badly I wanted to work in the world of finance and investments. It was a big shock all round.

To make matters worse, I left the corporate world in the first week of May 2020, right in the thick of the COVID-19 lockdown. You can only imagine how much everyone wanted me to run back and beg from my job.

It was even more surprising that I had left a dream job only a year after I had fought hard for it. I was a trainee portfolio manager and analyst; I was among many applicants, but only 15 made the cut.

Finance was an exciting world from the business pages of newspapers to the market indicators on the nightly news. I watched Oliver Stone’s 1980s hit Wall Street and closer to home, Hlomla Dandala’s Jacob’s Cross. They convinced me finance was my future.

My training taught me a lot. I learned how to understand the economy, how it relates to me; how to spot opportunities in the market place.

One of these opportunities changed my life. Land and property prices fell in the pandemic of 2020. I saw this as the time to buy farmland for a reasonable price…so, I pooled my savings and also raised some money from my family.

I bought a 4.3 ha farm to the east of Johannesburg that was rundown and needed a lot of work. I felt I could turn it around. Without a salary, I decided to move back home, that was also closer to the farm.

The plan was to build a poultry farm, producing fresh eggs and chicken meat. I’m learning the process of raising chicks to full broilers; I slaughter them and sell the meat from the boot of my car, to a growing number of customers in the East Rand.

It’s still early days; I’ve only been in operation for about eight months, but there is direction. I’ve been working to clean up the farm and repair what I can with the money from roadside selling. I am fixing the farm house and had a borehole drilled so running water can flow once again.

The first time I saw the farm was a bit overwhelming, it was an open veld, all the windows in the farm house were smashed broken and there was no electricity. As excited as I was about the purchase, somewhere deep down anxiety crept in, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?!’

It was a huge adjustment from corporate where all I had to do is make sure that I keep up with deadlines. Some days in the office were long, at times all I could see was red on my screens, as I had to be up by 3 AM when the market wasn’t performing. On good days it was jokes all around, and later a catch up with colleagues at local industry events, sharing insights and listening to thought leaders on finance.

Looking forward, I needed to bring money in to start working on the farm. Raising broilers was a challenge since some died during the cycle (six weeks), but eventually the mortality rate went down. I was a bit afraid of them at first since I’d been a city boy for most of my life, but after I chased a few around I got the hang of it. Sales has really grown on me, I really love meeting new people constantly and selling to them. Most customers like their chicken cut and cleaned, whereas the remains like intestines, feet, livers and heads sell faster with customers near taxi ranks who cook and sell plates of food..

It is a good place to be right now. Parts of the economy may remain limited by lockdown, but agriculture grows. South Africans really love their chicken. If anything, this pandemic has exposed limits in the global supply chains and how unprepared some countries are, as far as food is concerned.

I’m also glad that the South African Government has started to implement some level of protection for our poultry industry by attempting to put in place a Poultry Sector Master Plan. I’m confident about the future of the chicken business and feel in my heart it was the right decision to leave finance for poultry.

A lot has happened in such a short space of time and I’m excited about what is ahead. It all comes back to that first week of May when I resigned – the day I saw the future.


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