DECIDING to resign from your job and start your own business is a terrifying prospect for many, but for award-winning mushroom farmer Peter Nyathi the leap of faith is paying off not only for him, but also his staff.
The 53-year-old agricultural economist’s career was on the rise – having gone from working in the agricultural ministry in Zimbabwe, to marketing, administration and finance for big-name insurance companies in South Africa.
It was while working at Denny Mushrooms that he decided that mushroom growing was fascinating.
“There is a lot of science in mushroom growing. In normal agriculture you don’t find that kind of challenge,” he said.
With his sights always on either being in a top position, or owning his own company, he had risen fast, but describing himself as a planner, he needed more certainty about his future at the company.
He spoke to his boss about how far he would go in the company, and his boss could not say for certain.
“So I said to him, I’m going to take my own future into my own hands,” said Nyathi.
When he told his wife, Bridget, he would do it alone, she was “a little bit scared”.
“She kept her job,” he chuckles, as he explained that the next step was to get financing.
Small supplier of the year
It took three and a half years of hustling for backing, planning and finding just the right location in the Magaliesberg region and his company, Tropical Mushrooms, was born.
Since then, the company has grown and now has 150 staffers producing 800 tons of mushrooms a year “from Sunday to Sunday”.
Speaking by cellphone while waiting for a flight after a business meeting, he explained that mushrooms are not like other agricultural products which have a resting period, so he and the 150 staffers push themselves every day to meet orders.
“Luckily I have a lot of energy,” he says.
Pick n Pay announced this week that it had just awarded him its “small supplier of the year” title for 2019 in its annual awards under its Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme.
The programme provides mentorship and support from corporate experts and helps accelerate small suppliers into their network.
Employee trust established
Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, transformation director at Pick n Pay, said in a statement that entrepreneurs need a boost.
“In Peter’s case, it was financial. He knew his business well, but needed financial support to expand his business to build a sustainable future. Through our commitment to fulfil orders, he secured the funding he needed to grow,” she said.
The retailer said that since joining its ESD programme in 2006, Nyathi has more than doubled his 18.9ha farm’s capacity. He also opened an employee trust and last year, for the first time, the company shared R1m before tax with 60 qualifying beneficiaries of the trust.
The employee trust was started with early grant funding through the Department of Agriculture’s Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development programme.
Nyathi said that he also supplies other large retailers, including Shoprite and Food Lover’s Market, and is planning on expanding again later this year, and to hire another 40 people.
Asked whether he actually likes mushrooms, he laughs and says he does have intolerance for some food but, fortunately, not mushrooms.
He eats them stewed, fried or just raw.
“I love them,” he says. — News24