Toyota New Harvest of the Year winner: Cultivating the land for future generations

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

  • Stockfarm visited Vumile Mzinzi, the 2021 Toyota New Harvest winner, on his farm, Matuana Farm, in the northeastern Cape.
  • The 36-year-old, who considers it an honour to have been awarded this title, cultivates potatoes, yellow maize, sugar beans and turf in an area that is often flooded by rain and prone to sudden hailstorms.
  • Being inclined towards the cultivation of potatoes, Vumile notes that it is not the world’s easiest crop to grow.
  • Vumile believes that commercial producers never stop learning and that it is important for them to support each other.

Being a crop producer these days can be a backbreaker. The truth of this matter is confirmed by Vumile Mzinzi, last year’s Toyota New Harvest winner, during Stockfarm’s visit amid a brewing thunderstorm to Matuana Farm near Ugie in the northeastern Cape.

The 36-year-old, who considers it an honour to have been awarded this title, cultivates potatoes, yellow maize, sugar beans and turf in an area that is often flooded by rain and prone to sudden hailstorms. Regardless of these challenges and many other trials, such as Eskom’s unpredictable load shedding and the poor condition of the majority of roads, he still takes pride in helping to put food on the tables of thousands of South Africans.

All hands on deck

Vumile grew up in a small village approximately 70km from Ngcobo, which is the main town of the Engcobo local municipality which resorts under the Chris Hani district municipality of the Eastern Cape. “It is where I, thanks to my father, Thumekile Mzinzi, acquired a love for and learned about farming.”

After he finished school, Vumile managed to obtain a bursary that afforded him the opportunity to study and graduate as a pharmacist at the University of the Western Cape School of Pharmacy in 2010. He fondly remembers how his father had mistakenly been under the impression that he was studying ‘farming’ and that it took a while for the elderly gentleman to fully grasp the fact that his son had studied to become a pharmacist, and not a farmer. “My father will always have an important place in my life,” says Vumile, “having guided me from a tender age on a great many important aspects regarding life and farming.”

With seven years of farming now behind him, Vumile currently lives in Elliot due to the amount of travelling which requires some excellent time management skills. He regularly criss-crosses between Ngcobo where he farms together with his father, as well as Matuana Farm and the adjacent rented farms, Misty Mount Farm and Whitfield Farm, all of which are located some 35km from Ugie. He also frequently visits his pharmacy in Mount Fletcher, which he bought in 2016 – the pharmacy is managed by a full-time pharmacist and overseen by his wife, Thandiwe.

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Aiming to constantly move forward

Being inclined towards the cultivation of potatoes, Vumile notes that it is not the world’s easiest crop to grow. “In our area, we constantly have to spray the potatoes for blight to prevent losing our plants.” Blight is a fungus-like micro-organism that is usually visible first on the leaves and then on the stems where brown lesions appear, leading to plant die-off.

“Once we have harvested our potatoes, I take it to the farm of a friend and fellow farmer, Vuyani Kama, where we sort and pressure-wash it to remove the soil,” says Vumile. “Vuyani has played a huge part in helping me to get where I am today. Not only does he advise me on important farming matters, but he also generously supply me with the necessary implements whenever I need it.”

Asked where he sees himself in ten years’ time, he answers: “I hope to be a fully-fledged commercial producer by then, and would like to have my own storage space, with enough implements on the farm. I would also like to be able to produce value-added produce to sell to the local supermarkets and wholesale suppliers. With this in mind, in the next five years I want to start producing white maize instead of only yellow maize, since the latter is sold straight from the land to the market, which easily gets saturated.”

Vumile believes that commercial producers never stop learning and that it is important for them to support each other. He also wants to motivate other young producers to hang in there despite the lack of funding available to support their farming endeavours.

“Just keep working hard and try to efficiently utilise that which you have at your disposal. Communicating with other producers around you is very important, and when you don’t have enough implements to work with, approach those nearest to you to try and work out a mutual agreement for the use of theirs.” – Carin Venter, Stockfarm

Phone Vumile Mzinzi on 073 520 0523 for any enquiries.

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