This is a thread on challenges that can befall a young farmer, due to mismanagement and being overzealous. We don’t need to all go through the same challenges. If one of us goes in, then we would have all go through it.
2017 June is when I finished my 1st degree in Agricultural Economics. I had an office job waiting for me where I had done my industrial attachment. The company is into the exporting of horticultural produce.
As a family, we have a farm (53ha), 36km away from the CBD of Harare. We had always done grains but had never really broken the barrier, where we would say we are farming commercially. We always had enough for us, the extended family & for the workers, to last us till next season’s harvest.
I figured that if I would do at least half of what I did at the company I had worked for, I may be able to turn around our fortunes at the farm.
I politely asked my boss to give me till end of year, so that I would leave my family at a better level at the farm. After all, they deserved a little bit of ‘payback,’ for all the schooling they had put me through. I told my family of my decision. I have never seen my dad so proud of me, after telling him of my decision. I had turned into the son that he had always dreamt of (hahaha)!
Some of my family members thought that this was the perfect use of my degree program (not really, but well..)
I drafted a very ambitious proposal and thank God some family members were willing to invest in it. I did not want to do away with the grains side, so from the usual 6ha, I increased it to 15ha and added 2ha of intensive
horticultural produce. 1ha for tomatoes in different stages ofcourse and a 1/4ha each for beetroot, carrot, butternut and red & yellow pepper. This was so I would get a feel of market trends and familiarity of what works, so that when I go back in, I would be well informed by experience.
I went to SA and bought very strong but relatively cheap drip irrigation lines, submersible pumps for 2 boreholes and a booster pump. I got an irrigation engineer to design a system for me and bought tanks and all the pipes required, all the seedlings, seeds, fertilizers and chemicals. I also acquired a good 2nd hand tractor and some implements.
I recruited a serious team I had worked with before, so according to me, everything was set and it really was! The funding was also quite good.
Fast forward to when the crops were ready for the market. Well, I had an average to good maize yield. I managed to offset the balance for command agriculture liability we had (that meant less capital to invest back ) for the crops. I undertook a vigorous marketing strategy I had learnt during my industrial attachment, as marketing is my forte.
All the crops did very well, except beetroot. Money started coming in fast and furious! Almost every day, I was getting a notification of money coming in.
2 months into the harvesting, I had almost reached half of the money invested in total back, but I was expecting to get it fully back in the second cycle.
I figured the business was going well and it was time for me to go back to work, in order to get official work experience in my CV (lol) and even registered for a master’s degree.
The plan was to go to work during the day, study at night and go to the farm every weekend. But that’s when things started to go south!
1. The job was just as demanding as school was, as was the farm!
2. Because at the farm, there was a working system but it was literally central around me, requiring my presence. Produce started accumulating at the farm, as the frequency of deliveries had drastically reduced, as I personally did them.
I now had to sometimes go to the farm at 3 am during the week, collect the produce, deliver it and try to be by the office by 8 am.
After work at 4 pm, I would go to the farm again, collect more produce and deliver it. I started being inefficient at work. My bosses, office clients and the veg markets were now all complaining. I was also now too tired to even study!
3. No one was now managing the workers, as I usually did so. There was great negligence!
One day, I sent a driver to collect some produce from the farm. I had notified the farm supervisor I would need 300Kgs of carrots in the morning. They were collected and delivered. I had built a great relationship with supermarkets managers. This particular manager called me from a big supermarket:
_”Please come through. It’s urgent! Your delivery …… Ma1.”_
I sneaked out of the office at 8:30 in the morning and rushed there. All the delivered carrots were not washed! The manager, being an older guy said:
_”Young man, today you have to learn! I still want your carrots. There is the water tap!”_
I removed my suit jacket & tie and put them in the car. I rolled my sleeves and started washing and grading all the carrots, by myself! I have never told anyone about this before. This was more embarrassing than it was hard!
4. I heard from the farm that one of the water tanks and the booster pump had been stolen. There was a night guard on duty but he just said he had been scared, though he was armed! I then realised that most of the farm assets, inputs and produce, were now being stolen by my workers.
5. Recklessness became the norm at the farm! All the drip lines were removed after the pump was stolen, only to be piled along the edges of the main house.
When I went there after almost 2 weeks, the rats had dealt thoroughly with all the pipes! I had no drip lines anymore. After I saw them in that condition, I rolled them nicely and piled them in a cabin. That’s when I decided to do this thread.
All my tanks, one after the other, were just falling and breaking somehow.
6. Because of poor follow-ups with the markets coz of my divided attention, one of the major markets, a very big company, started paying my money of 2 or 3 deliveries, amounting to about 5 tonnes of produce, in batches, the 1st payment coming after a 6-month delay!
This hit me hard and maintaining operations at the farm was now really difficult. I started supplying markets that would give me instant cash, enough to cover transport costs to get those deliveries to them.
It was a mess! I remember delivering a truckload of cauliflower to Mbare and they said:
_”Haaaa Mdara! Apa toku paiwo US $40.”_
I was like:
_”For a crate??”_
_”Haa, maya!! Truck yese Mdaraaa!”_
They called each other and said:
_”Haaa! Zvaka flooder izvi. Dzokerai henyu nazo!”_
I just had to leave the produce there!
7. I started losing all of my best workers and this was one of the final nails in the coffin. Through all this, my dad was trying so hard to hold the fort but it was just not the same.
The money I earned per month, I could literally get it every day from selling produce. What drove me back to work then? *Fear of the unknown.* I did not look at farming as a career but a side hustle. I always wanted to work for UN and I thought I needed the work experience. I thought I could manage it all. I was overzealous & started too big, a little too soon, though I had the funding.
Ultimately, it was a major loss. I can imagine if it was money borrowed from the bank. I would now be indebted for the most part of my life, trying to pay off the debt!
My major takeaway from all this is that:
• Farming is *not* a hobby
• It is *not* a side hustle
• It is *not* even a job or career.
• Farming is a *way of life*
It can not just be a part of you, it has to be *you*!
It’s not enough to just invest your money in it. You have to invest your passion, your time, sleepless nights, hard work, dedication, accountability and responsibility in it.
Right now, I am trying to get back in the game. I am now applying what I learnt during that period and what I am learning from others.
I can not wait to share my success story one day! The vision and dream is now even bigger.
*Lastly, I think 20% of life is what you make of it. The other 80% is how you take it.*
It does not matter the hardships you face as a farmer. Make sure you always have something in the ground, no matter how small or little:
*STAY IN THE GAME!*
*PS* this is a post we found on social media