The inspiring example of his subsistence farmer father and a leg up from a mentor was all this 32-year-old KwaZulu-Natal farmer needed. That, and his own passionate drive and hunger to succeed in agriculture.
Mzwandile Duma says his father was instrumental in nurturing his love for farming as he was growing up in Underberg, a dairy and cattle farming community on the banks of the Umzimkulu River valley in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
This passion led him to set up his own business, Kwethu Farming Enterprise, on a 630-hectare farm he leases near Boston, a small town near the Mkhomazi River valley. Here he breeds cattle and sheep.
“I grew up in rural areas. My father, Lawrence Duma, farmed on communal land.” The young farmer says his love for agriculture began when he would help his father herd cattle in the mountainous village. His father is now 60 years old and was a subsistence farmer.
“I had a passion for farming at a very young age,” he says. “I’m inspired by the love of it and the fact that my father was never employed when I was growing up, but still managed to sustain us through his farming.”
His father encouraged him to seek opportunities to educate himself on the dynamics of the agricultural industry. This then led him to the Zakhe Agricultural School in Baynesfield in Richmond where he started his high school career.
“At the college we were exposed to everything from animals to crop sciences. We could learn stuff in class and practice them. I was there at the college for five years.”
Lawrence Duma says he is proud that his influence helped his son to realize his dream.
“Agriculture helped me raise my family, I have always encouraged my children to farm and I am happy one of them has listened,” Duma senior says.
Duma junior says his father is his farming superhero. “Farming is something that I grew up doing. If my father was a farm worker, maybe I would’ve ended up being a farm worker, but my father was a farmer, so I grew up farming with him,” he says.
After matriculating from the Zakhe Agricultural School in 2006, Duma could not pursue his tertiary education due to lack of funding. But an opportunity to be mentored by Judy Stuart, founder of the Future Farmers Foundation, was his saving grace.
“I worked for Judy for two years. One day she said to me ‘you’ve got a lot of potential, would you like to go overseas to do more training?’ And then she applied for me,” he says.
At the end of 2009, Duma took his first ever aeroplane ride to Florida in the United States of America. With the assistance of the Future Farmers Foundation, the young farmer was deployed to Bell, a small town North of Gainesville, where he did training at the North Florida Holstein dairy. This journey, he says, completely changed his life.
“There I noticed that things were done a bit more differently than South Africa.” His trip to Florida was an experience he would never forget. There, Duma studied top quality studs and learned to do pregnancy testing, as well as milking and treating sick cows.
In 2011, when he returned to South Africa, Duma had earned enough money in the US to pursue his tertiary education at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He studied project management and agricultural management and after completing his qualification the farmer attained employment at the African Conservation Trust (ACT) as the regional manager in Underberg.
The foundation is centred around teaching rural communities to produce their own food, focusing on vegetable production for their own use with a surplus to sell. “The foundation is focused on educating farmers on environmentally safe agriculture. I was employed as a general worker, but got promoted to supervisor when I got my tertiary qualifications,” he says.
Duma spent four years with the African Conservation Trust and resigned in 2017 to focus on his own endeavours and his work with the Future Farmers Foundation.
“In 2017 I was able to lease land to farm in Boston from the Mhlungu family. I am also contracted as a Future Farmers mentor. I have to place students or graduates with local farmers and check on them daily.”
The Mhlungu land in Boston in KwaZulu–Natal lay fallow until Duma recognized its potential. Having cultivated a relationship with the owner, Senzele Johnson, Kwethu Farming Enterprise began. “I’m farming with beef cows and sheep on 630 hectares that have not been used since 2015. With my farm I am now accredited with AgriSETA to also give training to prospective farmers.”
Although he has attained land, Duma says his journey has been turbulent as he struggles to secure funding for his endeavour. “The journey has not been easy at all,” he says.
“I started looking for land four years ago, I approached everyone including government looking for funding to expand my operations so I can employ more people, but this has not been easy. Once you’re here at a farm they think you’ve arrived,” he adds.
Stock thieves are a constant threat, but his passions have helped him continue to fight for his dream. “I’m hanging in there because I just love farming so much!”
Duma navigates the challenge of funding by working many side hustles. “The money I get from my little projects I use to invest into my farming endeavour. If I didn’t do that, I would have nothing on my land. I have got to go out every morning, seek jobs, get this money to pay employees and invest the remainder into my dream,” he says.
“I just recently started buying animals, I have been buying cows bit by bit. My dream is to have an abattoir so that I can do everything at the farm,” he continues.
Although lack of funding poses a threat to achieving his dream, Duma advises future farmers to weather the storm and remain resilient. “Do what you believe, if you believe that you are a farmer, keep believing it, never give up on your dream!”
Duma now spends his days as a mentor with the Future Farmers Foundation. Had it not been for the organisation, Duma believes he never would have been successful.
However, Future Farmers founder Stuart thinks differently. She says that the organisation is merely focused on equipping youth with the necessary skills they needed in the agricultural industry, but their heart and hunger for success are the real drivers of their success.
“We’re not doing it, we’re just creating opportunities which enable them to do it for themselves. All we’re doing is providing them with the opportunity, the encouragement, and the support that they need.”