About six years ago, Husna Raza took a calculated risk.
She withdrew money from an investment account to pay down a large portion of a seven-hectare farm in Vischkuil, Gauteng. Her aim was to expand the existing family business by starting a poultry farm and supplying eggs to her husband, who is a bulk egg supplier.
Infrastructure and production costs were higher than anticipated, so she quickly switched to planting vegetables. She followed the advice of people she knew but suffered bad losses. For a while, feeling defeated, she stopped farming altogether.
Then, three years ago, a series of encounters brought her to Buhle’s door. She applied to study Vegetable Production and was accepted at the second attempt.
After graduating from Buhle in November 2019, Husna felt re-energised and began to apply the skills she had learned. She is now successfully growing seasonal vegetables.
Before enrolling at Buhle, Husna was harvesting about 120kg of spinach weekly. She is currently harvesting up to 200kg of spinach weekly and, in summer, about 35kg of green peppers, 50kg of chillies and some coriander, tomatoes and aubergines.
“One of the things I learnt that has made a tremendous difference is the proper use of fertiliser. Another was learning to identify insect pests and establish how to control them,” she said.
“There’s still some trial and error, but we are pushing ourselves. If I don’t know something now, I check with Buhle for answers.”
She’s taking up the advice to protect her crop from environmental damage by putting up shade netting.
Husna has a community spirit. When some of her distribution channels were disrupted during lockdown, and hail destroyed some of her spinach, she turned it into something good by chopping it up and distributing it to those in need
Husna employs two permanent and three part-time workers. As a couple, she and her husband maximise their strengths: she manages the fields and her husband markets the produce. In the first three months after graduation, she had contracts with the large supplier Agricool, which provides fresh produce to outlets across Johannesburg, and sold to several Spaza shops. Her business was finally making a profit.
As lockdown stages are gradually relaxed, she is managing to cover her costs.
Her youngest son, aged 12, now loves poultry and has started his own chicken farm in the family’s back yard. This is a source of pride to Husna. “When lockdown eases, I want to start a small broiler production unit, something he can continue,” she says. “Poultry gives a larger income, and we’ll also continue with the vegetables.”
Before lockdown, coriander was in demand from the local shops. With restaurants closed, Husna has had excess coriander but she’s using technology and social media to market her produce on WhatsApp and Facebook, and the orders are coming in.
“We’ve had challenges, including financial issues, but the farm has taught us a lesson: If you fend for yourself, eventually it works out. You will succeed, especially if you work hard.”
Farming is a job to be proud of, Husna says. “You can feed yourself and others too, and if you put in the effort, at the end of the day, it can be very lucrative.
“In the Indian community, some people think it’s odd to have a woman farming, but now I’m getting people asking me for advice on how to plant.
“I love it. It’s fun. Some days it’s tiring, but many days you just enjoy being outdoors.
“Now, we’re growing the farm and keeping it for our children.”