Dr Brylyne Chitsunge is the epitome of Wonder Woman. She is a farmer by day, and also the Pan-African Parliament’s ambassador for food security – a superwoman who has not only changed careers from medicine to agriculture, but is also well on her way to receiving her pilot’s license.
Chitsunge was born and raised in Zimbabwe as one of two children, although her mom is South African. After completing her primary and secondary schooling in her native land, she furthered her studies in the United Kingdom.
“I left when I was about 21 and I have gone to quite a number of schools there,” says Chitsunge. “I first did nursing, then I did a degree in biology and then I went to Belgium. My parents were diplomats in Belgium (at the time).”
“Chitsunge’s purpose in life is ‘Let’s grow food and feed ourselves’.”
It was not long, however, before the fearless Chitsunge returned to England to further her studies. “I did a degree in biology and molecular biology then I went back to England. I went to Anglia, Hertfordshire and University College London to study molecular medicine and biotechnology.”
Then one day, as if it was a revelation, Chitsunge realized that she needed to do something to help the entire African continent when it comes to agriculture, but more specifically food security.
“I realized that Africa is very beautiful and that there is a lot of hunger on the continent. I just woke up one morning and thought to myself, why don’t I start looking for my own farm so that one day I can speak from a farmer’s perspective like I am now. That’s how the whole thing started. I have never looked back.”
Purpose is the fuel behind Chitsunge’s passion for agriculture. “My purpose in life is ‘Let’s grow food and feed ourselves’. There is no reason why Africa should toil and why any child should die from malnutrition or from lack of food.”
For the past few years, Chitsunge has been able to work on her own farm, Elpasso Farms, in Cullinan, 30km east of Pretoria in Gauteng. ‘‘I bought the farm in 2010 and this year I have been farming for exactly nine years with cattle, goats, chickens, rabbits, quails and fish. We also do lots of vegetables supplying supermarket chain stores.”
Chitsunge says her journey as a farmer did not come without hardship. “It’s not been an easy journey. It was very lonely, very painful but as a woman you always persevere.”
Her farming ways have not gone unseen. In 2017 she was named New Entrant into Commercial Agriculture (Northern Region).
“It was very surprising for me. It takes a lot to get that recognition to be a commercial farmer in this country where the area is male dominated. So, it was quite rewarding.”
Although she has changed careers from medicine to agriculture, Chitsunge says some of the knowledge she has built through her studies in medicine is very useful in what she does today as a farmer.
“Molecular and biotechnology, that is everything I do now, and it’s what agriculture is based on. It’s science. I am more in the genetics field so I can do my own selection. I am a better judge now, even looking at my animals and the crops production, because I understand it too well,” says Chitsunge. She completed her PhD in Molecular Medicine.
“Without the level of education I have, I don’t know whether I’d be half the farmer that I am today. It has certainly shaped the person that I am today and to be able to make decisions and think constructively as well.”
On her role as the Food Security Ambassador for the Pan-African Parliament, Chitsunge says, “It is a big responsibility, but I am happy to take it on because at least I am the farmer so I know what I am talking about. When I go around, I know exactly what I am saying.”
The Pan-African Parliament, also known as the African Parliament, is the legislative body of the African Union.
“Go-getter” does not describe this mother of three enough. While other women often have different interests, Chitsunge says, “I am doing my flying lessons at Wonderboom airport to get my pilot license. I like flying. Maybe one day I’ll buy my own aircraft like (English business magnate) Richard Branson.”
She is also all about empowering especially women. “Let’s start investing in them and rather than just empowering them. By investing in them, they have a future. It’s best that we start investing in them now.”
As part of her own investment in youth, Chitsunge plans on establishing an agricultural institution. “One of the things I am looking to establish is a university called Pan-African Agriculture and Compost University with the main focus on agriculture and also a big research facility and pushing also for a curriculum to be pushed through school.”
Looking to the future, Chitsunge says all she wants to see is a food-secured Africa. “I just want Africa to be food-secured and thus don’t hear of any child going to bed hungry or any child dying because there is no food.”
And to those who have not yet gotten their hands dirty, this remarkable woman has a simple message: “Let’s go farming. Let’s go change Africa together.”