“Self sustainability inspired me to get into farming. I realised that rather than whining over unemployment and how the current economic situation is making it hard for us youth to earn a living, I should just make use of what I have.” So says 26 year old Dominic Machingura, a backyard farmer from Belvedere.
Machingura has taken his parents’ backyard – a 400 square metre patch – and turned it into a viable agricultural business. Since October last year, he has been earning a tidy profit, and aims to net himself $1,000 a month by August this year.
“I was introduced to farming at a young farmer’s summit held by Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) in August last year,” says Machingura, who actually comes from an accounting background. Young farmers were making presentations of their work to their peers but it was the story of another backyard farmer from Marlborough, Munyaradzi Shamunyarira, that really spoke to Dominic.
“Munya’s presentation on how, with not much space, he was managing to do well for himself inspired me to act,” he said. Machingura took just a month to draw up his plans. By October, he was preparing the land for his lettuces. His mother chipped in the $200 he needed to get started.
“I chose lettuce because it only takes six weeks to mature,” said Machingura. “With a small piece of land you have to pick your crop of choice carefully – one that yields the most and has the highest profit over a short space of time because unlike a commercial farmer you don’t have the luxury of space.”
Machingura calculates that he can plant nine heads of lettuce per square metre. With 400 square metres of land to work with, and at 50 cents per lettuce, his seemingly ambitious target is, in fact, within his reach.
Starting up, Machingura faced many challenges including finding the right market for his produce. “I didn’t know where to market my produce. I didn’t know when to sell. I didn’t know how much lettuce cost so some buyers ripped me off,” he said. “I also had to find a market that could accommodate how I produce because I cannot continuously supply lettuces from my small space.” Machingura says that information on these matters was tricky to find.
Unlike Machingura, the young farmer that inspired him in the first place, Munyaradzi Shamunyarira, has farming in his blood. His grandfather was a master farmer, and he himself holds a Certificate in Agriculture from the Farmers Development Trust in Marondera. “I am also the bearer of a degree in horticulture from the Women’s University,” says the seasoned Machingura, who has been continuously growing food throughout his life, even setting up greenhouses in 2013 to boost his yield.
Working with tight margins means getting to grips with the technicalities of production, which Shamunyarira enjoys. “My passion is to learn about crops rather than just farm for profit. Through practice I want to increase efficiency in production on my small portion of land. Agriculture is constantly changing so only through practice one can catch up to new methods.”
In line with global trends, and in the hope of meeting the needs of international consumers, Shamunyarira has started plotting a move to organic methods. “Organic farming is complex so I will move gradually into it as I gain more knowledge.” Like Machingura, Shamuyarira’s major challenge is lack of available information. “Most of the books that are used in Zimbabwe are outdated and do not apply to our current environment,” he said. “Even if you go online, the information you get that is close to home is from South Africa.”
Shamuyarira urged young people to get into farming rather than sit on their hands. “There is more to farming than meets the eye,” he says.