Still recovering from running his first Comrades Marathon which he narrowly finished at 11:48:40, entrepreneur Kobela Mokgohloa says he’s a bit disappointed in himself and could have performed better at the gruelling ultramarathon.
However, Mokgohloa (30), of Pretoria, is not disappointed in himself for having temporarily parked his private pilot's licence (PPL) for a lucrative career in agriculture. He is the operations manager of Korema Farms in Winterveldt, where they farm English cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, among other vegetables. The farm turned over R8 million last year.
Mokgohloa matriculated from Potchefstroom High School for Boys in 2005 and went on to work for five years at aircraft manufacturer Global Composite Solutions (GCS) at Wonderboom Airport. His boss, Errol van Rensburg, taught him how to fly during his lunch breaks. He obtained his PPL in 2008 through an aviation school in Pretoria, allowing him to fly private charters without being paid.
However, all the passion he had for flying was put on hold after he won the SAB KickStart entrepreneurship programme in 2009/2010. “They gave me R100 000 towards a concept I had presented to them on feedlotting cattle,” he recalls. “This forced me to leave aviation to pursue my career in agriculture at our family farm in Winterveldt.”
As fate would have it, the high maize prices of 2012, where a ton sold for over R5 000, forced Mokgohloa out of the feedlot business. His father acquired three greenhouses to grow all sorts of vegetables on the 16ha farm including lettuce and tomatoes.
“We have a small library at home, so I read a lot of books on how to grow cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. I focused on how I could generate some money. I was focusing on the bottom line,” says Mokgohloa. When asked about why he put much focus on farming cucumbers, Mokgohloa says: “There is a bit of a niche market in farming cucumbers, it’s still very white dominated. There are too many whites growing cucumbers.”
“I decided I wanted to go into this industry, see how I can penetrate it and make some money off it. Look, I’m very money focused. I believe passion will come once one has made enough money.” Mokgohloa is involved in the whole agro-processing value chain, as they chop and dice the vegetables to the customer’s specifications, at the farm’s packhouse, which then get distributed through their channels. He says, “we are among the largest black cucumber producers in the country.” Their clients are the Tshwane and Johannesburg Fresh Produce Markets.
The farm has previously supplied Massmart stores such as Game, Cambridge and Makro with vegetables but stopped, say Mokgohloa, because Massmart didn’t want them to brand the veggies. "Branding is a very crucial element of growing our business, that’s why we pulled out of their contract in 2013/2014.” Mokgohloa says their plans to expand operations include manufacturing their own greenhouses. “Agriculture is a volume driven business, to make money you have to grow more.” He says they are also aiming for a higher turnover this year. In 2017 we hovered over R9m. Let’s see where things go this year."
In 2015/2016 the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries noticed Mokgohloa and he toured China, where his agricultural skills were sharpened.
Despite his successes in the back-breaking agriculture sector, Mokgohloa says his passion for flying is not lost. He says he has been applying for a job at the SA Police Service airwing in Pretoria for a few years now. “I would like to represent my country in the police airwing division in order to get my pride as a South African.”