Polity: Black-owed KZN sugarcane farm doubles output

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Director at UThandimvelo Farm in KZN, Nonhlanhla Gumede

Gumede’s father, Mahlakaniphana (meaning the ever wise one) started his career in farming in the early 1980’s before any of his children were born. He began working for a Mr Jasper Pons as a general worker, and over the years moved up the ranks, until he became a farm manager.  

He served for almost 25 years at Pons Farming until 2003, when Tongaat Hullet offered black people opportunities to purchase farms under the Erlard Programme. Mr Pons assisted him in filling out all the necessary documents until the deal was approved.  

The M Gumede and Family CC Project began as a 100-hectare (ha) sugarcane farm that ran well until the 2010 drought hit, shrinking production from 5500 tonnes to 1000 tonnes overnight.  

The following year, Nonhlanhla joined the family business, but the farm struggled for years with little production.  

Thanks to support from the Mintirho Foundation and technical support from the South African Sugar Research Institute (SASRI) the farm managed to replant using various loans, which were finally fully paid off in 2018 under great difficulty.   “The injection from Mintirho has meant that the farm will go from 3500 tonnes in this year’s harvest to 6000 tonnes in 2020,” Gumede says. “It hasn’t been easy because, until now, we were forced to rent equipment from suppliers, who would charge me inflated prices.”   In 2018, the farm was only able to plant 70 ha out of 112 ha of usable land. Although the Gumede family owns 170 ha of land, the remaining 58 ha is raw, undeveloped bushland.  

“If we had more funding and clearance from the Department of Environmental Affairs, we would clear the remaining land as well and begin planting,” Gumede says. “Since we restarted operations in 2017, after a brief break, we have replanted the entire farm and expect to see the first profits in 2020. This will be the result of us acquiring our own equipment through Mintirho.”  

“I see myself buying another farm as soon as this one is fully planted, which will make it easier to pay the bond over in five to six years. As we’ll have our equipment, and not pay contractors, we’ll use the extra money to pay off the bond,” she says.

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