Farming has ensured a better life for a KwaZulu-Natal farmer and his community.
When Mhlonipheni Zulu (54) dropped out of school to look after his father’s cattle, he had no idea it would motivate him to start his own farming business. Zulu owns the 820-hectare Gelykwater Farm in Babanango, KwaZulu-Natal, which breeds and sells cows, sheep and chickens to the market.
The farm has 350 cows and 170 sheep and on average sells between 60 and 70 cows annually. Zulu has employed nine permanent workers from local disadvantaged families and plans to employ another six at the start of the maize and bean harvesting season.
Zulu also owns tree harvesting company Siyawisa Hlathi.
It wasn’t easy for Zulu to start his farm as he had to withdraw all of his savings from his tree harvesting business to buy the land. “I didn’t have enough money to fence the farm. I approached Ithala Bank for a loan and luckily my application was successful.
I had no choice but to make it work because I invested all I had into the farm and the loan had to be paid back. I worked hard and planted maize to use for feeding,” he said.
Since starting the farm two years ago, Zulu has faced a number of challenges, including finding the right staff to look after his farm when he is busy with Siyawisa Hlathi. “The animals are like babies and they need to be looked after 24/7. You have to be there all the time and always have a stock of medication, especially for ticks,” he said.
Nkosinathi Mhlongo, one of Zulu’s employees, said he enjoys his job because it helps him to provide for his family.
“I don’t have any plans to move. In future, I want to breed and sell chickens because I have gained a lot of experience here,” he said.
Zulu encourages people to work hard to achieve their dreams. “Education is important, but if you didn’t have access to it, like me, you must try to do something you enjoy and have the skills to do,” said Zulu.
He encourages aspiring farmers to be patient when starting their business. “The farming business is not as simple as it looks. You must have patience because you cannot start now and make money tomorrow. It is a long process that requires patience and a love of farming,” he said.
His secrets to success are determination, commitment, sharing experience with other farmers and a love of farming.
Siyawisa Hlathi used to employ 300 workers for manual harvesting, but the introduction of machines has decreased this number to 40.
Zulu works with his wife Nkosingiphile at Siyawisa Hlathi. The former teacher manages office administration while Zulu manages the overall operations.
“To work with my wife helps a lot, because she is always there for the business,” he said.