Thriving in agribusiness

By Drum Digital
04 July 2019
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These young farmers are fighting poverty and improving food security, through hard work and innovation

Ditumelo “Tumelo” Michael Zitha was born in a small township in Tsakane, Brakpan in Gauteng. Today he lives out his dreams at Vlakfontein Farm in Grootvlei in Mpumalanga, cultivating the land.

After completing high school, Tumelo attended Buhle Farmers’ Academy where he completed a crop production course in June 2007. In August that year, Tumelo had his lucky break. “While I was still studying at Buhle Academy, Tongaat Hulett Starch [Africa’s largest producer of starch, glucose and related products] selected 10 students from the academy and I was part of the group,” Tumelo says.

“In the 2007 to 2008 season we went to Kliprivier to do practicals where we planted 110 hectares of maize,” the 31-year-old farmer adds.

During the season, Tongaat Hulett Starch assisted the students with registering a co-operative, Ithuba Capital Agricultural Primary Cooperative Ltd, to further help them achieve their goals.

“We applied for land through land reform, that’s where we got the Vlakfontein Farm.” The farm boasts 1 500 hectares arable land and 1 500 hectares grazing land.

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There are six executive members who also work on the farm, and three permanent workers. Each of the six farmers have an area of responsibility – and their teamwork is said to be one of their greatest strengths. Petunia Moumakwe is the Ithuba Co-op Chairperson and Financial Manager. Melusi Ntshangase is the Livestock Manager and Assistant Financial Manager. Ditumelo Zitha is the Crop Manager, and Zakhele Manatha is the Assistant Livestock Manager. Sthembiso Mazibuko is the Assistant Crop Manager, and Thabo Pule is the Assistant Crop Manager and Assistant Financial Manager.

Together they work hard and produce maize and soybean crops sold to AFGRI’s silos (AFGRI is a leading agricultural services company supporting the growth of food security across Africa), as well as cattle and sheep that go to feedlots. It’s hard work and it wasn’t always easy, Tumelo says.

After receiving the mentorship with Tongaat for a three-year period, finances and a lack of machinery served as a major hurdle while farming on their own, and they had to strategise as a team to keep the farm sustainable and afloat. They persevered and continue to do so today.

“As a young farmer in South Africa, I believe innovation and ability to adopt to new technology in the AFGRI sector ensures farming continues the fight against poverty,” Tumelo says.

Tumelo is grateful for the assistance they received on their journey, which also includes financial support from Lemang Agricultural Services as part of AGRI’s new-era farming, which seeks to assist emerging farmers. On what farming taught him about the world around him, Tumelo says, “Farming has taught me patience, respect for the environment and the importance of having support from your family – and mostly to put your trust in God.”

His advice for aspiring farmers is: “You need to have love for nature, patience and to be ambitious about farming and ensure you get the necessary skills (training – theoretical and practical) to be able to adapt to different situations. All seasons are not the same, some might be bad and others good.”

Tumelo aims to acquire machinery to fully mechanise the farm from 600 ha to 1 500 ha, to allow for more sustainable growth, and to have their own feedlot that will be able to supply goods nationwide. His future aspirations are to start projects that will give back to the community and encourage more young people to start agricultural projects.

Check out the video below for more on Ditumelo’s journey: 

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