Cape Town – Five Zimbabwean men have been successfully growing crops on land abandoned as unprofitable in Malmesbury. The landowner, N7 Meat, gave up farming crops on the land, claiming losses of over R1m, GroundUp reports.
Albert Zinhanga and four friends met the landowner when buying an ox for slaughter at N7 Meat in 2014. Noticing fallow land, they asked why it was unutilised. The farmer said it was unprofitable and if the Zimbabweans refused to believe him, he said they could try and farm it for free for a year. They could use his farming equipment and only pay for electricity.
He bet them they could not make a go of it.
According to Zinhanga, a teacher of African languages at Cravenby High School in Parow, the farmer was told it would cost R300 000 to correct the pH of the soil. He didn’t want to invest further and continued concentrating on rearing sheep, cattle and pigs elsewhere on his farm.
Zinhanga has four partners; one has a doctorate in agriculture, the others have degrees in physics, science and engineering.
“We never dreamt or even thought that one day we will be farmers,” said Zinhanga. “We were just a group of academics driving around buying farm products.”
The five men tested the soil and the water and it seemed good to them, albeit sandy. To counter this, they say they watered continuously before planting any crops. They planted three hectares in all, with tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and maize.
Neighbouring farmers, watching the developments, came to them and gave advice. They also introduced the men to Cape Town Epping Market to sell their produce.
When the maize crop ripened, the surrounding farmers were stunned. They said they had never seen such big stalks, says Zinhanga.
The Zimbabweans say the secret is to use cow dung and not to rely solely on fertiliser.
After the initial success, the farm owner offered them the land at a rental of R1 200 per hectare.
They now farm 15 hectares and have also started growing a leaf vegetable called tsunga. They call themselves the N7 Farmers, but as they all have full time jobs, they work the farm on Saturdays and Sundays and during the week take turns after work.
They have six employees. The farm manager is Malawian. Four general workers are South Africans and there is one Zimbabwean. During planting and harvesting time, they hire 20 part-time workers on Saturdays.
Zinhanga and his team were announced winners in the small business of the year award category on 2 April at the Cape Town Zimbabwe Excellence Gala Dinner Awards Ceremony 2016 at Kelvin Grove, Newlands.