Sowing the seeds of fresh food into success

Ntando Thabethe, founder of Elite Crop, a hydroponic tunnel farm.
Ntando Thabethe, founder of Elite Crop, a hydroponic tunnel farm.
Image: Supplied.

KwaZulu-Natal entrepreneur Ntando Thabethe (42) is driving her company, Elite Crop, to become Africa’s leading fresh food processing company.

Elite Crop is a successful hydroponic tunnel farm, located in Thabethe’s backyard in Pinetown.

Only launched in 2018, it has already broken into commercial markets locally and internationally.

Thabethe left her mechanical engineering job to open the company, which produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dried herbs and fresh, frozen and processed vegetables and fruits.

“I have always been passionate about farming, but I could not get on with it due to work commitments. However, I have always believed that I can make anything work for me if I apply my mind to it,” she said.

Tired of opening her bedroom window every morning and being greeted by a dull backyard, Thabethe’s hydroponic tunnel farm has added the colour that she was longing for.

“Knowing that the area was not zoned for farming, I took a chance and went to the local municipality to seek approval to have the tunnel farm in my backyard. I never looked back. That was the beginning of the journey,” she said.

The company recently added two soups to its product range - chicken and chives and pepper steak and mushroom – which are available at major chain stores and supermarkets in KZN. It also supplies and installs hydroponic tunnels locally.

Accessing markets

In early 2019, Thabethe was invited to attend a patent and trademark workshop organised by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Agribusiness Development Agency (ADA). The ADA aims to ensure a diverse, deracialised and sustainable agribusiness sector in KZN.

The workshop was facilitated by the Small Enterprise Development Agency, which selected Elite Crop to be trademarked. It also assisted with marking the brand, testing the processed products and finding a market to sell them to.

Looking ahead, the company’s products will soon be available in Dubai. “Elite Group recently signed a contract in Dubai to supply all of our dried produce, including rosemary, thyme, parsley, chives and tomato powder,” Thabethe confirmed.

For more information on the Agribusiness Development Agency call 033 347 8600.

-This article was originally published in the GCIS Vuk'uzenzele.

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