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Food System Heroes: Siyabonga Mngoma and Abundance Wholesome Foods

Siyabonga Mngoma is the founder and owner of Abundance Wholesome Foods, a small business based in Johannesburg that provides a weekly delivery service of organic produce to households, retailers and greengrocers. She started the business in 2018 and started part-time, while still upholding a demanding full-time job. After three years of balancing both jobs, she has now recently transitioned from part-time to now full-time, without being deterred by the sale slump that occurred during the pandemic.

The business was in the essentials services category during the pandemic, so she had the opportunity to keep the business operational while so many others couldn’t. With consistent work, and a growing experience, her passion for her business grew, and so did her customer base! Most of her customers made the conscious decision to move towards organic produce and to support sustainable farming practices, as many of them were moving towards a healthier lifestyle, and there was a growth in awareness of the relationships between what consumed more consciously and healthier lifestyles.

She reached a stage where she started to break even, and knew that if she didn't give the business her full attention, it would not grow, and she would let it go. It was a slow start, however, she focused and did as much as she could, and in her joining our #FoodSystem Incubation Cohort 2022, she felt a much-needed jumpstart personally, and it translated into the business. Being that Siyabonga’s business promotes organic produce, there was an educational aspect she had to consider, and during the pandemic, she started writing a blog that informed readers and raised their awareness about organic and sustainable farming, and being more aware of where food one consumes comes from.

This was in tandem with a newsletter she sends every Monday. She calls her customer base that started making use of her service after reading the blog posts or newsletters; “the converted”, as she did not have to convince them about the benefits of organic produce, rather however she engaged with them about how the food is grown, the impact on the environment, and the general lifestyle of converting to an organic produce lifestyle. This increased her market base, and so many customers wrote back positively about the service and knowledge they received from the business, making the customers very proactive in the business!

In addition, the business promotes transparency. Customers are informed weekly about what produce could not be farmed or was not up to scratch, and this honesty creates a closer relationship between the business and the customer base. Siyabonga is part of the Participatory Guaranteed System (PGS), a network of small-scale farmers growing organically. The network has been very important in the business, as the farmers audit each other's farms, to ensure that the farms and produce are grown organically. The network also shares knowledge, for example, some members may be experts in making compost, and others experts in pest management, this information will be shared within the network as a farm of mutually beneficial exchange, increasing the quality of all the farms and producers alike.

Siyabonga has been given a space to pack the produce by a farm in the network and to keep the produce as fresh as possible, it is harvested and delivered on the same day, usually a Friday. She empowers and is supported by a food growing expert on the farm, and away from delivering the produce herself, she also makes use of a personal uber driver who dedicates Friday to the business. Siyabonga makes sure she personally delivers produce to new customers, as it is a trust-based business, and because there is a personal logistic and delivery aspect to the business, trust needs to be built.

The #FoodSystem Incubation program helped Siyabonga by allowing her to think thoroughly about her business. The program probed the business, by prompting important questions about the business and owner alike! This has helped the development of the business from its early beginnings to a more functional business. She has also found a community of fellow food entrepreneurs in the program, and they can conversate and relate with each other. She says that her biggest takeaway from the program has been showing up for herself in the business. She is now in a space where she knows what she needs to work on, and she has used to program to create a working system for herself.

Siyabonga lightly touched on what it is like to be a woman entrepreneur. She stated that before putting on that specific title, she focuses on the practices of all successful business owners, and takes on their behaviour and habits. She recognizes herself as a business person first and understands that she has to take one step at a time. She also spoke about not assimilating, but rather focusing on strength, capacity, and the innate feeling of competing. If she needs to be vulnerable as a business owner, she allows herself to be and is not apologetic about it. “We are women, and it’s something new for us to be in business spaces in black communities, and we’re learning. Let’s rather enjoy the journey”.

Siyabonga ended the conversation by mentioning how she has developed personally. She came from a background where she had a senior position where she was previously employed, and how she has grown as an entrepreneur and as an individual. She was forced to face who she is and commented on how it had been a personal initiation into knowing herself, and how this development is overlooked. She happily said she would do it all over again, as there are lessons that can only be learnt through experience!

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