“Reaching my goal: success by the age of 30”

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.”

Introducing Buhle

There are many thousands of aspiring farmers in South Africa who have access to arable land but don't have the skills they need to farm it. This problem must be urgently addressed, if we are to ensure the food security of people in the rural areas. The Buhle Farmers’ Academy is a non-profit organisation that trains and mentors aspiring farmers from across South Africa. We offer holistic courses covering a broad range of topics, from the theory of farming to hands-on practical skills, and farm management. Trainees come from all over the country to learn at our two campuses, one of which is near Delmas, Mpumalanga, and the second, which opened in 2016, at Mkhondo (Piet Retief), KwaZulu-Natal. In our 18 years of operation we have grown from strength to strength, and have now trained well over 4 000 emerging farmers – half of them women and 65% of them youth - in vegetable, crops, livestock and mixed farming. Even better, about 10 000 jobs have been created due to Buhle, based on the assumption that for every new farmer established at least one additional job is created.

Our Mission Buhle’s mission is train new and aspiring farmers from across South Africa to run farming businesses that are both profitable and sustainable. The effect is that we are helping to alleviate poverty by creating jobs in our own agricultural sector.

Over the years, Buhle has developed a best-practice model that could help make a huge difference in helping to transform agriculture in South Africa. In the rural and poorest areas of our country, the biggest employers are government, agriculture and mining. Most of these employers are unlikely to radically increase their take-up of employees. Our biggest hope lies in developing a culture of entrepreneurship, and agriculture is one of the key sectors for doing so. Universities and training colleges are expensive and have strict academic entrance criteria, which many aspiring farmers cannot fulfil. They need accessible, practical training with the follow-up mentorship and coaching that enables them to overcome the myriad, unpredictable challenges of agriculture. Buhle fulfils these needs.

Our History In the years after 1994 – when South Africa became a democracy – our newspapers were peppered with stories of how farming ventures fail after being handed over to black farmers. It became clear that transferring land was simply not enough. Emerging farmers also needed farming skills and ongoing mentorship.

A group of concerned citizens with agricultural expertise decided to address this problem. In the year 2000, they got together to form the Food Health Hope Foundation and, under its auspices, Buhle – meaning “It is good” – was established. Our founding partner was Monsanto, who donated to us the fertile land that became our training farm and gave us the start-up capital we needed. We developed our first curriculum in conjunction with Tshwane University of Technology, focussing on vegetable production as it has a short production cycle. Two years later, we added poultry, livestock and crop production courses. In 2004, we registered the Buhle Farmers’ Academy as an NPO in order to continue our fundraising efforts. We have grown from strength to strength over the years. From our first cohort of 57 students in the year 2000, we trained over 500 in 2018, and we have now trained well over 5 000 farmers over the years. Our heartfelt thanks go to every one of our funding partners. With your backing and partnership, we are indeed fulfilling our mission: to transform dreams into reality for many thousands of aspiring farmers.

Our Approach

Buhle has developed a best-practice model for training aspiring farmers, which includes:

  • A sound theoretical knowledge base in agricultural technology
  • Competency based practical skills training
  • Training in farm business management
  • Training in appropriate life skills
  • Effective follow-up and support services.

Our People

Our staff are the people who make it all happen, and behind us is the highest authority of our organisation, the Board of Trustees of the Food Health Hope Foundation. The Board oversees our vision, mission and activities. Motivated entirely by their sense of philanthropy, they donate their time, knowledge, experience and prestige to help grow and guide the Buhle Farmers’ Academy. A picture of our staff on each campus is below, and underneath that is a list of our board of trustees.   buhle-staff-2015

Our Partners

Our heartfelt thanks go to every one of our partners, who make our work possible: