Varsity rejection fuelled this young farmer’s dream

23-year-old Nceba Mkuyana from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape always had a passion for farming since he was a little boy. He learned the hard way to secure at least one market for your produce before you start growing

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Beginner farmers are often advised to do research and acquire the right farming equipment before they start farming. However, for Nceba Mkuyana (23), a vegetable farmer from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape, the most important lesson was to find a market. Not one, but several markets, he says.

Mkuyana learned this lesson when he had only been in the business for a couple of months. He started farming in September 2019 and harvested 800 cabbages. As excited as he was, his joy was short-lived because he did not have a market to sell his produce to.

“I didn’t sell a single one. I lost all my cabbages because they all became rotten. I was so disappointed because the money I had received to plant the cabbages was money I had received from home and I don’t come from a well-off family. So, losing those cabbages was devastating,” he says.

23-year-old Nceba Mkuyana farms with cabbages and spinach and supplies his produce to his community and a fruit and vegetable market in Tsolo. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

With the support of his mother he planted more vegetables and made sure that he had a market to sell his produce this time around. He also joined Facebook farming groups where he could market and sell his cabbages.

Nine months after sharing the pictures of his vegetables on different agriculture groups, he was contacted by a local fruit and vegetable market to showcase his produce.

“I got contacted to bring a sample of my cabbages by the owner. He was really impressed with my cabbages and they told me it was something they were looking for because they looked fresh,” he says.

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Since Mkuyana didn’t have transport, the Eastern Cape department for rural development and agrarian reform in Tsolo offered to transport his vegetables to the market.

Mkuyana sold 250 cabbages to the market in one go.

This made him extremely happy. “That’s when it felt like I was really working. I would usually sell my cabbages to people in my community who didn’t make big orders,” he says.

He has always had a love for farming. Before he started working his 0.5-hectare farm called Mkuyana Agric Enterprise, he used to farm in his backyard as a young boy. He would plant vegetables and his late father would help him, even though he had lost his eyesight.

“I am told my late father used to love planting crops too, but he had stopped farming by the time I was born since he developed an eyesight problem. Nonetheless, he still continued to teach me. He would tell me what do, and I would follow his instructions,” he says.

“young farmers need to have a passion for farming. they must also have self-confidence. if they don’t have self confidence, they won’t achieve anything in farming.”

Mkuyana became curious and his love for farming grew, so he decided to plant a backyard garden in 2006. He says that farming at home became a family affair. They all fell in love with it.

“I remember my family was not well-off at the time. So, when payday came along, we would go buy seedlings from streets kids and plant more crops.”   

The piece of land Mkuyane farms on is 0,5 hectares big, but he hopes to acquire a farm one day and sell his produce to international markets. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

In 2016 he had to go live with his sister and her in-laws since he needed to be close to his school. He shares that this family were also farmers, but they farmed on a larger scale with crops and livestock. He gained much of his farming knowledge from them.

“My farming skills became more advanced because I was using advanced equipment. I was taught about crop spraying and how to inject livestock. We would also work in the fields where I was taught how to plant, take care of and harvest rows and rows of crops,” he says.   

After completing his matric at Cameron Ngudle High School in Tsolo in 2018 he wanted to pursue a qualification in agriculture, but didn’t get university or college admission.

He decided to come back home in September 2019 since his parents were running out of money to support his quest to find a university or college.

“I was disappointed that I couldn’t study agriculture, but I took comfort in the fact that agriculture was something I could continue doing at home. So, I started planting vegetables in my back garden.”

Since starting his vegetable garden in 2019 he has grown as a farmer, but he admits that running his farm has not always been easy. He shares that he was impacted by drought last year and still faces transport challenges.

Mzimasi Jalisa, the managing director at JJ farming in Mthatha, is Mkuyana’s mentor and keeps him going through the tough times. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“I had to transport water with a wheelbarrow every single day because I had to water my crops in the morning and during the afternoon. My arms were tired every single day.”

Sometimes the cost to hire a car to transport a large order to a buyer would eat up the entire price he received for it.

“Which means, that I wouldn’t make a profit so I would end up cancelling that order and selling to someone close by, and that order would not be as big as the last one,” he says.

However, his mother and Mzimasi Jalisa, managing director at JJ Farming in Mthatha, keeps him going through the tough times. He says seeing Jalisa’s posts on Facebook and WhatsApp motivate him to continue farming even when the work gets tough.

“When I see his work and what he has done I always tell myself that I’ll get there and even go further,” he says.  

His future goal is to be able to export his crops to international markets and start farming with livestock, particularly pigs, cattle and sheep that produce mohair.

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