From subsistence farmer to wholesale supplier

Elias Pangane began farming mealies purely to feed his family – but he’s managed to turn a humble backyard operation into a fully-fledged business that now supplies Africa’s largest retail group. Although always passionate about farming, Pangane initially followed a career in construction in order to earn a stable income.

He says while working in construction, he farmed part-time to supplement his family’s groceries and from time to time he would have excess produce, which he sold on the streets of Hazyview from the back of his bakkie. He says the income he generated from the sale of his mealies was not enough to survive, but he persevered and learnt many valuable lessons.

“At the time I knew nothing about pricing, so I made a loss and I had to throw away some of my produce as they had a short shelf life. During those days of struggling, it didn’t dawn on me that my passion could end up being a lucrative business supplying for the Shoprite Group, Africa’s biggest retailer,” he says.

Pangane says he started doing farming seriously when he took over his retiring father’s cattle business, he decided to clear some land to also plant vegetables, and later macadamia nuts. He says everything changed in 2009, when an angel investor assisted Pangane and other small farmers in the area to install a drip irrigation system, and then further introduced him to the Shoprite Group, which he began supplying a year later.

He adds that the past 12 years have been great, and that his relationship with the Shoprite Group has changed his business completely. Pangane says that when he started, he only knew how to farm, he didn’t know anything about pricing and many other business-related concerns required to supply for a retail company, but the people at Shoprite helped him.

“A key factor that helped me over the years has been advice I received from Shoprite, they used to advise about the crops to produce based on customer demand.  Shoprite is giving us the ability to create employment for the people of Hazyview. When I started I had two seasonal employees who came during the harvest period – now I employ 34 people,” Pangane says.

Today, Pangane farms vegetables and macadamia nuts with five of his children – two of whom are now pursuing degrees in related fields at the University of the Free State.

“My passion has turned into a legacy I can proudly leave for my children. Farmers never retire, but I am happy that when I am ready to rest, my children will confidently take over the reins. They will be also equipped with education, something I never had when I started,” says Pangane.

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