They stumbled into farming, now feeding entire districts

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By Walter Marwizi for bird story agency

MASVINGO – It’s just after 5.30 am, and a blue truck laden with fresh farm produce pulls into Chitima market, Masvingo. Several market vendors rush to meet it as it slows down to a stop.

Four young women donned in white overalls alight from the truck and within 15 minutes, all of its load of ripe tomatoes is in the hands of the market sellers.

With the morning’s business over, the four women return to the truck and head back to their farms.

One of them is 31-year-old Faith Mugomba.

When she failed to get formal employment after graduation, Mugomba opted to go into farming. “It dawned on me that I could not starve in Harare job-hunting, while my parents owned an underutilised 20ha land back home in Masvingo,” she said.

Her journey began with $5.

Mugomba borrowed the equivalent of $5 to buy data from a friend and spent days researching online about growing horticultural produce. “That is how my farming journey started,” she said.

The Mugomba family plot is near Popoteke river, which feeds into Mutirikwi, Zimbabwe’s second-largest inland lake.

“When I started, I didn’t have any irrigation equipment and would heavy-lift 25-litre buckets daily to water vegetables I planted on a 20-by-10-square-metres of land,” she said.

After selling her first products, she bought a second-hand irrigation pump that lessened the back-breaking work.

She attributes her success to good negotiating skills, but most importantly, the ability to dodge greedy middlemen.

“These men robbed us in broad daylight. That is why we saw the need to connect directly with the market, hence our early morning visits to Chitima market,” she said.

Mugomba represents a new era of farmers in Africa — enterprising young women in their 20s and 30s involved in the entire supply chain, from the farm to the market.

These trailblazing young women surf the Internet for best farming ideas and practices, connect with the market on mobile phones and market their products on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

Yvonne Shumbanhete, 32, is also among these women.

When economic hardships forced her to migrate from Zimbabwe, she moved to Botswana, where she married at 19 and was widowed at 21.

She then returned to Zimbabwe with her baby and got a job as a janitor before getting employment at a microfinance institution.

However, successive Covid-19 lockdowns forced her to start a backyard farming business after her employer suspended all programming.

“I was idle at home, and my little income at that moment would not sustain me, especially when it was lockdown after lockdown. That is when I decided to get into farming,” she said.

“I didn’t even have a hoe or shovel. I actually took my dishing spoon from the house and used it as a garden trowel,” she added.

The seemingly going back-to-basics backyard gardening response unexpectedly launched her seedling business, which has now expanded and earned her a place in a ZimTrade Female Exporter programme.

ZimTrade is a national body that seeks to develop Zimbabwe companies with products that can be exported to other countries.

Under the Female Exporter programme, the organisation is trying to specifically develop selected Zimbabwe women with the potential to join the export market.

Reflecting on her journey, Shumbanhete said:

“I just bought one packet of seeds in town and I came, I nursed it, then I took what I wanted to plant, I then went on a WhatsApp group and said I got some seedlings for covo (vegetable).”

“I had so many people asking for the seedlings and others were inquiring about other seeds that I didn’t have. I realised there was a business opportunity in that, and that’s when I decided to go back to the shop and get assorted seeds,” she said.

Shumbanhete has since moved her business from her backyard to a farm 50km from Masvingo. She sells seedlings to farmers and herbs to supermarket chains, hotels, universities and colleges.

She has parsley, coriander fennel, mint, aloe vera, lemongrass, garlic chives, sweet basil and cassava in stock.

Boosted by knowledge gained from her recent training, she has also started value-adding her products by drying vegetables containing herbs and is making preparations to venture into the spices business.

Her next step: getting her products onto supermarket shelves.