What started as a therapy session working in the garden ended up being full-time employment for Sthembile Ngubane, a vegetable farmer from the Magabeni township in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ngubane says following family disputes, she had to look for something to keep her mind busy and in 2018, her journey as a farmer started. Since then, she has not looked back.
“From what really started as buying time in the garden, led to my new career path of being a farmer. I then approached the local school for the open field that was not being used to start farming on it,” she says.
“I was given 0.6 hectares and bought seeds with the help of local farmers and I planted them. During the initial years, it was a bumpy ride as I did not make any profit, but I kept the spirit of wanting to be a great farmer.”
The intriguing world of farming
Ngubane farms with spinach, butternut, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, green pepper and brinjal, and looks to expand in the years to come.
“What is funny and intriguing, is that when I started, I was so clueless, I did not know the difference between a seed and a seedling. I had to rely on the internet and generous people who would advise me.
“So, the process of learning different types of seeds and what they do, was very therapeutic for me. Working the soil, cleaning, and preparing the ground for planting was a great and moving experience for me,” she says.
Farming with different vegetables opened doors to her market as she occasionally supplies Pick n Pay, Boxer, and Spar supermarkets, with the biggest market being street vendors.
“At the moment, in my township, I am still the only one farming on this scale so I’m able to secure a lot of clients.
“The work is demanding and I am still working alone. I made a lot of mistakes when I started and didn’t make any profit. It’s only now that I’m picking up and learning. I want to grow and expand so that I can guide my future employees.”
A tough but rewarding journey
There are many challenges she has to contend with. Ngubane says climate change is affecting her farming and she must continuously adapt to extreme weather conditions, whether it’s heat or heavy rainfall.
“I believe it will get better with time. Transport remains a critical aspect of my farming journey as I have to take the vegetables to some suppliers. I do not have a car and I have to rent a bakkie which costs me about R 200 per trip,” she explains.
Looking to the future, Ngubane said she is confident that her farming career is set for greater heights, as she knows that food in the country is critical and with farming, she cannot go wrong.
“For someone who did not study agriculture, had no farming background and had to rely on the internet or library, I have done quite well.
“I believe in engaging people, so I talk to everyone who is into farming. As a result, I have since gained more knowledge as someone who didn’t know the difference between a construction or farming tractor.”
Farming without proper equipment is strenuous and it’s what Ngubane needs the most.
“I water 0.3 of the land with watering cans, but that does not bother me, I love what I am doing. It brings peace of mind for me and it’s my happy place.”
Encouraging her fellow youth, Ngubane says there is no better time to start than now with the little that you have. It could just lead to bigger things, she says.
“Start where you are with what you have. When I started, I did not know about fertiliser, pesticides, fungicides, and all other farming-related matters, but I wanted to learn and I believe I did well.”
Ngubane adds that because of working with big retailers, she had to formalise her operations and founded a company called Sthelo Esihle farm. She says the support she has earned from her community is what keeps her going despite only being in the farming business for three going on four years.
“With fenced land, access to water, passion, and a love for farming, you are good to go. You will not mind getting your hands dirty because that is the nature of farming, working the sometimes wet or dry and dusty land.”
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