A young, self-taught farmer from kwaMaphumulo, north of Durban, has won the Social Entrepreneur category at the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Business Awards.

After obtaining a business management diploma in 2019, Mhlengi Ngcobo found himself unemployed. He started a small vegetable garden at his home to keep busy. His passion for farming was ignited.

23-year-old Mhlengi Ngcobo lost his father to taxi violence. While receiving psychological help, he was encouraged to find something to keep himself busy. And so he started a small vegetable garden in his backyard. And so was born Boyane Agri Farming.

Now Ngcobo is farming on 120 hectares of land and supplying fresh vegetables to chain stores in KwaZulu-Natal. He’s also trained about 200 young people, many of whom were previously unemployed.

“I train youth and women coming from these communities based on agricultural skills so we can curb the high rising number of unemployment rate substance abuse crime and also teenage pregnancy and also another issue that we are facing whereby we have a rising number of drop-outs in high school due to financial issues or due to substance abuse.”

Statistics South Africa says that the country’s unemployment rate reached 32.6% in the first three months of 2021. In a bid to break this cycle, Ngcobo has urged young people to be more innovative to overcome unemployment.

“Unfortunately, it’s something that requires not an individual to change the high rising number of unemployment in South Africa. We do understand that we are facing a pandemic and the pandemic has been with us for close to two years now. As young innovative and also capable youth, we should be thinking out of the box and also understand that our world is shifting, gradually shifting from degrees or qualifications. Now,  it’s a matter of what you can put on the table. That is why I emphasise that even though you do have a particular qualification roll your sleeves up put your qualification on the side and hustle.”

Ngcobo is paying it back by giving other young men and women, a helping hand. Many have qualifications that are unrelated but with few prospects, they’ve turned to farming to earn a living. They say they still need help with fencing and an irrigation system to sustain their crops.

“It came in place to help those ones who are at home. who are suffering from unemployment for them to come and do farming so that they could sell their products bring something to the table.”

“I thought I should join Agriculture so that I can have the access to Agri Processing thus having my own products company in years to come.”

“We would get assisted in getting knowledge on planting, and also getting resources like land, water, irrigation because we need it.”

Mhlengi Ngcobo may have a passion for farming, but the energetic young farmer says he’s determined to share his skills with other young people, so they too can turn their bad break around.