Eating fruit of labour

Cindy Preller

THIS youthful voice rattles off his business plan in less than 30 seconds, with a spell-bound audience hanging on his every word.What exactly it is that Bhongolwethu Sonti, 22, does to captivate his audience is hard to say – possibly it is a mixture of youthful optimism and the X-factor that made him win second place at the national Pitch and Polish Entrepreneurial competition last year.

Certainly it is also his ingenious business idea, titled Land Fill to Gold Field, which he recently re-presented during a workshop at the Eastern Cape Training Centre to entrepreneurs taking part in this year’s competition.

Sonti’s business became operational in May this year, with the first products of hydroponic gardens in King William’s Town being harvested a month later.

“A year ago, in June last year, it was all just an idea in my head. The competition has accelerated my business by two years. I met my main investor at the final of the competition in Johannesburg and the competition has taught me how to overcome personal challenges and it put me into contact with mentors who helped me research the business,” Sonti said.

Some investors who have showed interest in his business are the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) and the Russian embassy. He hopes to receive an initial R5-million to fully implement the business.

“I am still in negotiations with the investors but I have received some letters of intent. In the meantime I have used the winning money from the competition [R37000], to start the business,” Sonti said.

His business is based in both the environmental and agricultural sectors, with the company cleaning up land fill sites and unused municipal land by recycling waste and re-investing in the land by growing fruits and vegetables on mini-farms.

“We collect nappies, plastics and other waste products and recycle them. The money we receive from the recycling, we take back to the farming site to invest in hydroponic farming.

” At the moment we [grow] cucumber, tomatoes and strawberries,” Sonti said.

Having overcome his first hurdle of finding suitable land in Nelson Mandela Bay, Sonti – who matriculated at Cingani High School in Motherwell – soon found suitable land in King William’s Town and East London, where the business is now operational.

“I do have to travel a lot, but at the moment the allocation of land is just too contentious in the metro due to housing problems. I negotiated with the Buffalo City Metro over some of the land and other parts we lease from the community.

“We have seven farms in East London and two in King William’s Town. The communities benefit since we rejuvenate the land, implement the project and lease the land from them,” Sonti said.

The fresh produce harvested on the community-based hydroponic farms is sold and distributed to local shops and one of the main aims of the business is to also create jobs for the locals who live close to the farms.

Personally Sonti said his brothers have supported him in marketing and managing his business. Even though his mother was initially concerned about him giving up his studies at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University last year, where he was in his final year of studying chemistry, she supports his business. His friends are also involved in working for him in his business.

And, for a man who towers above most other people in a room, I just had to know if his height help him in some way when he pitches his business ideas?

“I think so, because I am able to see over obstacles,” Sonti laughed.

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