A QUICK look-up of the word entrepreneur in your dictionary will tell you it’s a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.
One can add that once they identify the business idea, no matter how unlikely it is to succeed, they’ll pursue it until it comes alive.
Ask anyone what businesses they want to open, likely not a single one will mention a mushroom business.
But Peter Nyathi did exactly that with his mushroom farm in Magaliesberg, which now employs 175 people and supplies big retailers with high-quality products.
He couldn’t have imagined when he started Tropical Mushrooms that he’d have his mushrooms on the shelves of over 300 Shoprite and Checkers supermarkets all over Gauteng.
Nyathi’s one-man mushroom farming journey began as an employee for Denny Mushrooms, where his dreams of starting his own farm eventually led him to take a risk and go it alone.
Armed with a BSc honours in Agricultural Economics and years of experience in the industry, Nyathi first struggled to get funding for his new business. Thanks to a deal with the Shoprite Group in 2016, doors opened for him.
“Any entrepreneur will tell you how difficult it is to gain access to the market, and for the group to let me in, I will forever be grateful. They showed what will happen if big businesses let small guys in,” he said.
He said his ability to hire 175 workers who work on variable contracts is in line with the farm’s fluctuating yields and peak times for picking mushrooms.
While Nyathi has vast experience in the mushroom business, like any business, nothing could prepare him for Covid-19, and lockdown.
“The first setbacks of small-scale customers shutting up shop was devastating, but the partnership with the big retailer kept me going,” he said.
“The businesses that closed were 50% of our customers, and we were only left with the big retailers.
“We’d have been at a complete standstill if they weren’t there. We were able to survive, and as businesses have reopened business has now gone back to almost normal.”
But what led Nyathi to the mushroom business is his passion for mushrooms – both farming them and eating them.
“In South Africa we’re still trailing far behind in terms of consumption relative to countries like Australia and America,” he said.
“It would be good to get people encouraged to eat healthy food, including mushrooms, and to reduce meat consumption and cholesterol.”
He said mushrooms are not only delicious but have lots of health benefits. He said people must be encouraged to introduce them to their families.
“Besides creating employment opportunities, as you eat your mushrooms, remember their importance to your health and well-being,” he said.