Zamaswani Duma always told her parents that she would achieve financial success by the age of 30.
Her farming journey has tough but at the lowest point, when she considered giving up, she remembered the promise she had made to her parents and herself, and she persevered.
This ambition and grit, along with a ceaseless desire to learn, have enabled Zama to run a profitable farming operation by the age of just 24.
Zama was awarded the Star of Buhle trophy, an award given each year to an extraordinary graduate, at the Buhle Farmers’ Academy winter graduation ceremony on June 7.
“Farming is a business and a journey, like any other,” she observes. “Nobody should do it to alleviate a sense of boredom. The challenges will make you give up. Rather, venture into it knowing that it is not going to be easy and it might even take as much as five years, but it pays at the end of the day.”
Zama grew up on a family farm, first in Carolina, Mpumalanga, then Middleburg. From her teenage years, she helped with the maize crop after school and over the weekends.
After matriculating, she started studying engineering but in 2013, when her mother took her to a short agricultural course at by the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa, Zama was hooked. She decided to discontinue her engineering studies and focus on farming.
“I saw in farming and liked the fact that not everyone else, and especially not women were doing it. I like doing things that are unusual,” she says.
Also in 2013, she completed a livestock course at Buhle Farmers’ Academy. “After Buhle, I worked on the family co-op, Indumiso General Investment, to earn money while I continued to learn,” she remembers.
The co-op was leasing a 482ha farm in Middleburg from the government under its land reform programme, producing cattle and maize. “My family bought me six pigs – five sows and boar – as a gift after I graduated from Buhle. I used these as a startup capital, ploughing the profits into buying some sheep in late 2013 and starting a vegetable unit in 2016, while continuing to work for the co-op.
“I have grown my herd of pigs to 42 over the years.”
As the years progressed, she attended other short courses with the Department of Agriculture, including vegetable production and crop production.
Zama is now the chairperson of the co-op, which plants maize on 92 hectares and has harvested an impressive average of six tons per hectare on over the years. The co-op is still farming with cattle, although they are reducing the herd size because they are rending out some grazing land and have limited grazing space let.
Maize is less profitable than in previous years, so they are now venturing into soya. “Farming requires constant change and adaption,” Zama comments.
Zama started her vegetable unit by planting cabbages on half a hectare, but they were eaten by pests. She went on to plant again, learning how to rectify her mistakes and making a profit. She has now expanded her vegetable unit to two hectares, producing beetroot, peas, butternut and onions. Most of her produce is sold to Fruit and Veg City in Witbank, but she also supplies the local informal market.
“I had a big set-back in 2017 when some neighbours stole 10 of my sheep, and 52 more died from food poisoning due to a worker’s negligence,” Zama says. “At that point, I considered giving up. But I looked at where I had come from, and thought, ‘No, I’ll carry on.’ I also remembered that promise I had made to my parents and myself, of becoming rich by the age of 30. I had to fulfill that promise, especially to myself.”
Zama now has 42 pigs and 18 sheep and is growing her herd before selling again. Theft remains her greatest challenge.
“Farming has not been easy, but the support of my parents and the department, helping with grains and equipment, have made it much easier,” she says.
She now employs four permanent workers and, depending on the amount of work required, up to 40 casual workers per day during peak seasons.
The profits from the farm enable her to support her child and parents in comfort.
She advises other would-be farmers to “make sure that they learn something new every day.”
“Don’t be lazy to read. Meet with farmers who are better off than you and, if possible, work for them for a week or a month to get practical experience, because the theory and practical aspects are very different,” she advises.
“I, too, am always seeking more information, reading all I can, continuing to attend workshops and visiting other companies for information. For example, I have just found a new group of emerging farmers and am approaching them because I don’t have the equipment to harvest my soya, and maybe they can help or rent it to me.
“In agriculture,” she concludes, “the learning never stops.”