“Vuka uzenzele!” – (Wake up and do it yourself)
It is this old Xhosa saying that motivated Nozolile Toyi, and 6 of her partners in 2010 when they founded Sebenza Mama Qukeza, a small-scale farming project in the village of Manzana a few kilometres from the small town of Ngcobo.
“With the soccer world cup creating jobs in host cities across the country many of us living in small towns were not as lucky, we needed to get up and create jobs and opportunities ourselves, otherwise living in extreme poverty and unemployment were going to destroy us” says Toyi when asked what motivated her and her team to pursue this path.
“We needed to feed our families and waiting for government jobs wasn’t the answer. In 2010 when there were seven of us when we started this project, but this isn’t an easy business, it requires one to be patient and emotionally strong. I guess that’s why some gave up along the road.” – She continues.
“When we started this project, we wanted to plant cabbages and spinach, then sell them in town. We have since grown, now growing and selling additional vegetables like lettuce, turnips, beetroot, carrots and more. Some years back we also saw the need to diversify because some vegetables are only seasonal. That’s when we started the poultry side of the business” says Toyi.
The pride written all over her face as she tells her story shows just how much this business means to her.
We then asked her about some of the challenges they have faced since the inception of the project.
“Oh, mntanam kunzima soze ndikuqhathe. – (My child it has been hard, I won’t lie to you.)” as she sighs before drinking a glass of water.
“Besides the local municipality giving us a few tanks a year or two ago, we haven’t received any government funding you know. We’ve had to dig deep in our pockets and find ways to grow this business. In this country, if you wait for the government you’ll wait for a very long time.”
“If it wasn’t for the numerous farming competitions we’ve won through the years, andazi ngekunjani. - (I don’t know how things would be.)” she says as she points at the many tanks placed on the small farm.
“Uyabona lama tanki funeka abenamanzi onke okanye akhonto izokhula apha. – (You see, all these tanks need to have water otherwise nothing will grow here.)”
“That means we need to buy petrol for our small generator to pump water from the mountain every other day and without petrol, nothing moves.” she continues
“So, every day when we are in town, we have to sell to ensure we have some money to buy petrol for the generator, above that this old van we have constantly needed repairs. We are basically running a hand to mouth business here, but what else can one do. This is the only way we have unless someone can sponsor us with a bigger generator. We have over 20 tanks here and when the drought strikes it becomes even harder for us to operate.”
As she pours another glass of water, we then asked her how they plan to grow the business and what words of inspiration she has for other women who want to start farming.
“Hay’ke mntam uyikhulisa yona le business siyazama uyikhulisa, nangoku zininzi zikolo ezithatha apha kule veg yethu for ifeeding scheme yazo. – (Well, my child growing this business is one thing we are striving to do, we even have schools that stock our vegetables for their school feeding scheme programmes.)”
“We even supply to many of the local catering companies, nditsho nemitshato namatheko eziwayo apha eNgcobo athatha apha kuthi iveg. Kona ukhula siyakhula – (Even when there are weddings or ceremonies around Ngcobo people buy their veg from us. We are indeed growing)”
She continues and gives her word of advice to aspiring female farmers – “Farming isn’t child’s play, if you want to enter this industry you must be prepared to work. So, one has to work hard, whether you are a man or woman one must work here. Ngapha koko akhonto ingenye, umntu funeka azinikele ayazi into ayifunayo. – (Beyond that there’s nothing else, one needs to be dedicated and be sure of what they want.)”
As we brought the interview to a fold, we asked her about their plans for the rest of the year and near future.
“Uyabona apha mntanam siqashe abantu abahlanu abakheselayo, funeka sikhulise elishishini kwenzela sikwazi uqasha nabanye, yeyona ndima sifuna uyidlala leyo – (You see my child, here we have employed 5 temporary workers, we need to grow this business so we can be able to employ more, that the one role we want to play here.)”
“Soon we want to start supplying all the local supermarkets, if we can achieve that then my job is done here.”
The women of Sebenza Mama Qukeza are a true inspiration to all of us and are a true testimony that hard work and dedication do pay off. As we celebrate Women’s Month, we take this moment to salute them and all the women across the country.
From us at Agri EC, a great month to you all until we celebrate spring.