For 27-year-old commercial farmer Ayanda Zulu the decision to pursue farming as a full time career four years ago was inspired by an encounter with a man she met at an Audi dealership in Durban.
Zulu, from KwaNongoma in KwaZulu-Natal, was servicing one of her friends’ cars when she saw this gentleman purchase an Audi Q7 with cash. Out of curiosity she asked him what career he was in and he told her he was a farmer.
Even though her family possessed cattle since she was a young girl, she never imagined that anyone could make a sustainable living by farming alone.
“I thought farming was all about having cattle and planting crops. I didn’t think one could sell their produce to the market and make a profit out of it,” she says.
The adventure begins…
Following that brief encounter, she became curious about the farming industry and started doing research about the industry. “I wanted to find out where I could get funding, how I could start farming. As someone who didn’t have an agricultural background, I had to visit other people’s farms to gain knowledge,” she recalls.
Zulu says that doing this research took a strain on her, but she was fortunate to receive land from her grandfather in 2016. This alleviated her burden.
However, she still had no capital to buy an irrigation system nor equipment or even seedlings, and her challenges were far from over.
“I asked one of my uncles who had an old tractor parked in KwaNongoma to lend it to me. I actually asked him to come and help me and I told him that when I start making money, I will pay him back,” she recollects.
The tractor was in a poor state and she had to make a loan of R2500 to fix it. “I also had to supply it with diesel,” she says.
Once she dealt with that setback, she approached her father to provide her with seedling money. “I started planting beans and that’s how I slowly generated my income,” remembers Zulu.
Once she had accumulated enough financial resources, she registered her farm. She called it Wenzokuhle Holdings, a name that was given to her by her grandfather in the same year. “The name means I can only do great things,” she says.
“I didn’t want to register it as Wenzokuhle Farming because I knew I wouldn’t focus on farming alone. I want to create a farming conglomerate,” she reveals.
After registering her company, she started planting other crops, such as cabbage, spinach and maize. Zulu is also currently farming with cattle and she employs seven workers on her farm in KwaNongoma.
“I supply different crops and livestock to different clients and whatever remains I sell and give away to the community, because they are my eyes and ears,” she shares.
The Mathunjwa High School matriculant says although she loves what she does, the climate in Nongoma makes it extremely difficult for her to farm. However, she refuses to let that get in her way.
“I don’t want to farm anywhere else because I really want to create job opportunities for the youth around my area.”
She describes Nongoma as a place that’s been looked down upon and where people believe that dreams are not valid. She says she wants to change that narrative through farming.
“Farming generates so much money to the economy, but we can’t see it because many of our people still see it as a dirty job,” she says.
“It’s more than that. Farming in South Africa stands a good chance at being the best economic vehicle in the future if young people could be encouraged to venture into it,” she advises.
Another narrative that she would like to change is how women are perceived and treated in the sector.
‘Farming generates so much money to the economy, but we can’t see it because many of our people still see it as a dirty job.’
“I would walk into places and people would think that I am here with my husband or I have a man, or I am just pushing my fiancé’s business. Some would think that my farm is not really mine or that somebody has funded me,” she shares.
Zulu believes this is a stigma that women are still fighting today. She has dedicated her life to teach her male counterparts to treat women with respect and dignity.
“I always tell the men I work with to respect women and I tell them how to treat us,” she says.
She reveals that one of the toughest lessons she has learnt so far is to be self-reliant. “You must never, ever in your life wait for someone to help you out or to do something for you, because people will disappoint you. You need to be self-sufficient,” she directs.
Her advice to young, aspiring female farmers who want to penetrate the industry is that farming is not glamorous.
“They must be ready. Farming is not fun. It is (fun) when you love it, but they must be prepared to get their hands dirty.”
In the future the Nongoma beauty wants to take over the agricultural value chain.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever venture into anything else but farming. I want to run the whole food chain. I want to own supermarkets, I want to own trucks that will transport my produce from the farm to my supermarkets. I also want to have my own abattoir where people can slaughter their meat,” she says.
Zulu declares that the aim is to create generational wealth and leave a legacy for her daughter.