Planting the first seedlings was the best moment for Solethu Ngalavu when he decided to embark on working the land to feed his family and the community where he resides. This teacher by profession had a few things to learn about agriculture and he passed with flying colours.
Ngalavu says he opted to use open space to farm vegetables. He believes that farming is more than just producing food but providing hope to the hopeless.
Ngalavu, the owner of Shammah AgriFarm Company, tells Food For Mzansi that farming runs through his veins. It is his dream to see as many young people as possible being farmers, as the need for food is greater with the increase in population.
How it started
“My wife and I saw a gap in the market, [because] there were no vegetable farmers in the area where we live in Thornville, Pietermaritzburg. So we decided to seize the moment and started farming,” he says.
“We got a 5.6-hectare land which we are leasing for a period of five years. We produce spinach and cabbage, hoping to expand on more crops when there is the availability of more land.”
Ngalavu says with their produce they supply two Boxer retailers in Pietermaritzburg and to the community members.
“When we started with our operations, the aim has always been to close the gap between food security and employment. An unemployed person cannot afford to buy food especially when they must go miles away to purchase that fresh produce.
“For us, farming is about ensuring that the people around us are able to have access to this very same fresh produce we are producing, the fact is that food is life, and we need to eat every day,” he says.
His wife, Ayanda, operates the business while he is at work and he assists her when he comes back from school. He says Ayanda is mainly responsible for deliveries during the week and ensuring that all the operational needs are attended to.
“The biggest challenge since started till now is that we are looking to have our own space to farm, we want to expand our crops. If the government can help us with a large plot of land, we can appreciate that.”
‘We can grow more’
Ngalavu says while they had received an opportunity to use the land they currently farming on, his wish is to farm on his own land so the money he is paying for lease monthly, can be used to increase production.
“We see our company employing 100 people, and with that, we will be reducing unemployment which remains to be the biggest ticking bomb in the country. With a large portion of land, we can plant as much as we can and our supply chain will increase,” he shares his vision.
According to Ngalavu, both of their families have been the pillar of their strength and motivated them to go the extra mile even in difficult times.
“Because of their input and financial contribution to this operation which started as a dream, we owe it to them for the growth we are at. Our families believed in us since this was just an idea that we spoke about around the dinner table. They motivated us to go the extra mile and bring the idea into reality.
“We are where we are because of them, with no government support, they kept us going and we are grateful for them for that,” he says.
Investing in the youth
Ngalavu explains that as a young person, he is concerned that fellow youth are not grabbing opportunities presented to them either by the private or public sector to venture into farming mainly because of finances.
“The truth is that to us as young people, the potential is overflowing but we do not have the means to explore them, because of financial difficulties, some decide to quit before starting.
“Government must support the youth by meeting our needs so that we can pursue and expose our skills,” he says.
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