A second-generation farmer from Ugie in the Eastern Cape Vumile Mzinzi (35), was recently announced as the New Harvest winner at the Toyota SA/Agri SA Young Farmer of the Year and New Harvest competition. This trailblazer is not just a farmer but also owns and manages a pharmacy in his community.
Mzinzi farms with crops on 335 hectares of land, where he grows yellow maize and sugar beans. But his passion and commitment stretches from medicine to crop production, and he has find a way to combine the two while helping people.
Food For Mzansi spoke to the winner on his love for agriculture and balancing two careers.
Octavia Spandiel: How did you get into the farming industry and how difficult has it been?
Vumile Mzinzi: My father was in farming and I eventually followed in his footsteps. It has been very difficult. It has taken me 13 years to get to where I am today. I am just trying to acquire better knowledge about farming. Finding finances or funders has been difficult too. I received funding for the first time two years ago. Everything I have done, I have done without any assistance, [and it] was not easy.
What are lessons you take with you throughout the course of your life as a farmer?
Farming is a precarious business. I was in debt for most of my farming career. In farming, you must realise that one year you’ll do well and the next, maybe not. It is never the same in the industry. Use your capital wisely and make sure you have insurance. In my area, we have a huge risk for fires, and anything can happen, so always be prepared for that. Farming is very dynamic; every year comes with its own set of challenges, and I have learned to embrace that.
You are a pharmacist too. Are you able to apply your pharmaceutical knowledge in your farming activities?
Yes, my pharmaceutical knowledge really helps in farming. I do a soil analysis, I check the calcium and even the nutrition of fertilisers. So, I make sure that everything is right to be able to get the best out of my soil. So the pharmaceutical knowledge comes in my favour.
What is the most challenging experience you have had in farming? The most valuable lessons you’ve learned…
The biggest challenge is that I farm in a very dry area and I don’t get funding in the Ugie area. I have only received funding once and I made the most of it. I took out an R1 million loan. It was impossible to think that I could get out of debt, but I had to build and continue to build. I used savings from the pharmaceutical business to sustain the farm and at the end of the day, we do everything by the book. Furthermore, I made sure to hire an accountant for the farm for bookkeeping. I also made sure that all my employees are registered with SARS as well as having bank cards. I don’t believe in paying in cash. That was hard work, but I would do it again.
What is your advice to young farmers?
Work hard every day. You mustn’t just think about getting money. You will have it today and not tomorrow. Take care of your employees, they are the gems of your farm. Do everything that you can to be able to help them. Another thing, get an accountant and draft everything that you do. Build your foundation right because one day you will look back and know that it was all worth it.
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