Young, hip and ‘nuts’ about farming

2011-04-23 15:13

Wandile Ndlovu (25) and his four business partners are young, trendy and into designer clothes.

But here’s the thing: they’re not city slickers; instead they belong to a new generation of young, black, hip farmers.

Ndlovu and his business partners are the flipside of the doom-and-gloom tales that are often told of once successful farming enterprises collapsing immediately after being transferred back to their “rightful owners” through the government’s land-reform programmes.

Ndlovu and the other four – Julius Sibiya (34), Trinity Mondlane (31), Phindile Mondlane (27) and Cynthia Zitha (21) – bought a promising macadamia nut farm.

Their Insimu Yami Co-operative acquired a 65-hectare farm in Schagen, 30km outside Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, for R5.35 million last June.

The purchase was funded with a grant of R2.7 million from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s land redistribution for agricultural development programme, and a bank loan of R2.65 million.

The co-op employs 20 labourers – five permanent and 15 seasonal – and aims to increase that number as the business grows.

Ndlovu and Trinity Mondlane worked in catering and construction until they attended courses on growing soya beans for biofuel.

When they started looking for a farm they still fancied the idea of biofuel, only to discover that the Lowveld climate is not suitable for growing soya beans.

Said Ndlovu: “We wanted a solid business instead of depending on tenders, and we diverted to farming, which was an attractive and interesting adventure for us.”

The business plan of Insimu Yami initially estimated that the venture would harvest 800 tons of macadamia nuts, as the farm under its former owner had done.

They have, however, been harvesting about 80 tons.

“The money we made was only enough to pay the labourers,” said Ndlovu. “We have not earned a cent since we started, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Projections for their first harvest this year are 225 tons, which will earn the business about R600 000. They will have to use this money to start repaying the bank loan in June.

Ndlovu explained that the co-op had so far signed a five-year contract to supply Golden Macadamia Nuts, which exports to the UK, Canada and Japan.

“Cash flow is still a challenge for now, but we are going to break even,” he said.“Unlike other land reform projects, we have been trained and there are only five of us instead of hundreds of people (farming macadamia nuts).”

He said they were busy preparing 10 hectares of land to grow vegetables on, to ensure they have a regular income instead of waiting for the macadamia harvesting season once a year.

Elizabeth Thabethe, deputy minister at the trade and industry department, praised Insimu Yami for its work and promised that her ministry would help with marketing and accessing overseas markets.

She said: “I have really been impressed. They must be an example to other young people in Mpumalanga and other parts of the country. We need more such young people who can take the initiative and look at opportunities to create jobs for themselves.”

The Small Enterprise Development Agency has offered to help Insimu Yami diversify into fish, pig and poultry farming and also to turn some of the houses on the farm into bed-and-breakfast enterprises.“We are going all out to make this business work,” Ndlovu said. 

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