MUT alumna excels in farming – MUT Alumni

MUT alumna excels in farming

A girl who only met her father after graduating from university is now making a significant  difference to the ongoing fight against food scarcity. She delivers tons of agricultural products to the province’s supermarkets and provides work and income to 16 workers, most of whom are women. She has to meet a salary bill of close to R50 000 a month.

Silindile Zondi is a co-founder and co-owner of BBS Farm, a 17-hectare establishment nestled in lush, green vegetation a few kilometres north of Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. Silindile has a plush office with a number of trophies and certificates that indicate her and her business partners’ dedication to their job.

A former learner of Mangquzuka High School, Silindile graduated from MUT in 2002 with a diploma in Agriculture – Plant Production. She said she had always seen herself as a businesswoman and agricultural farming was her main interest. The mentoring she received from Hawu Khawula, a laboratory technician in the Department of Community Extension at MUT, helped her a great deal. “I was also inspired by my grandmother at a very young age. She used to take me to the fields at KwaHlongwa, Umzumbe, when I was very young. She would also send me to Emfundeni, a communal agricultural plot in the area, to buy fruit and vegetables which were not available in her fields,” said Silindile. Umzumbe is a tribal area near Port Shepstone.

BBS Farm delivers tons of macadamia nuts from about 3000 trees, as well as two types of tomatoes, to stores throughout the year. This is the result of shrewd strategic planning by Silindile and her business partners, Bongi Lushaba and Busi Molefe. Busi, who studied a relevant degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is a silent shareholder. The name of the farm, BBS, is derived from their first names. The trio acquired funds from the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development and Ithala Development Finance Corporation. They initially leased the farm for R10 000 a month from May 2009 until November the same year and paid their way with the savings they had accumulated from the time spent working for the co-operatives in the Ugu District.

Silindile knew that turning a dream into a reality was going to need dedication and hard work. Soon after graduating in 2002, she enrolled for a course in Business Management at Esayidi FET College. Next, she studied Co-operative Management at Mancosa and the University of Zululand. A leadership course at Hillcrest Bible College added to her impressive list of qualifications. All this took place between 2002 and 2010 and now the    38-year-old owns a huge house at Mthwalume, another tribal land on the South Coast.   Besides her wealth of formal knowledge acquired from these centres of excellence, Silindile gets advice from a number of professionals in the industry.

“We deliver macadamia nuts to Mayomacs in Parlock, about 30 kilometres south of Port Shepstone, between March and September,” said Silindile. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that the macadamia tree is indigenous to Australia and can reach over 12 metres in horizontal as well as vertical spread. Its nuts are some of the most sought-after in the world, so they can be expensive. Macadamias are extremely tough nuts to crack and contain at least 72 percent oil. Harvest comes when they fall from the tree, which is when the husk is removed and the nuts are dried.

In 2016 BBS farm produced 10 tons of macadamia and have since produced 13.5 tons in 2017. Silindile says that following the rules of the game is what has helped them increase the yield. “We have to follow the spraying schedule properly so that the nuts are of good quality and don’t have chemical residue when harvested,” said Silindile, looking at a schedule on the wall in her office. This professional approach has seen Silindile and her business partners working with Hygrotech, who supply them with seeds, and FilmFlex, which supplies them with chemicals, manure, seeds and advice. Farmers Agri-Care visits the farm twice a month and sells them seeds and material for building the 15 huge tunnels where they plant tomatoes. Farmers Agri-Care also gives them good advice. Irrigation Supply provides them with ‘fertigation’ for the plants, which involves the injection of fertilisers, soil amendments, and other water-soluble products into the irrigation system.

The 16 workers at BBS are also kept busy in the process of producing tomatoes. The two types grown are the round Bodica tomatoes, and the Pamela or jam tomatoes. These are transported to Spar stores in the area, and as far afield as Debonairs in Umlazi. Each of the 15 tunnels has 600 seedlings. Each seedling, when mature, produces 18 kilograms of tomatoes per week. All things being equal, one tunnel produces 10 800 kilograms per week. The production period for tomatoes is 12 months. “But not all 15 tunnels are used at the same time. We have to stagger them to prevent overproduction,” said Silindile. She said they were able to produce 104 tons of tomatoes a year from six tunnels. This brought in approximately R75 000.

Other products from BBS Farm are spinach – which brings in R6 000 a week – plus cabbage, beetroot, brinjal, cucumber, carrot, cooking herb and lettuce seedlings.  “This is where we earn most of our revenue – R50 000 a month,” said Silindile. They started selling the seedlings this year. Each tray of 200 seedlings costs R250.

The BBS Farm owners have a grand plan for the future. Silindile said they would introduce fish farming by taking advantage of a big dam that cuts their farm into two halves. They plan to add one more tunnel and build more houses for their workers. “There is a possibility we might add another farm. We enjoy the effort required in order to make money,” she said, adding that the hardships they endured made them even stronger.