Believe it or not, while you are probably sleeping, perhaps depressed counting your losses, there is a silent but growing and certainly profitable movement in the backyard of African Suburbs.
While for the most part, Zimbabwe urban agriculture has been and still is about peri-urban farming predominantly for domestic subsistence and coinciding with the rainy season, there is a spreading crusade of young farmers focused on horticulture for economic gain.
Meet Dominic Machingura a young urban farmer well on his way to making a consistent minimum US$4000.00 a month from his horticulture business which he began, with nothing but motivation, some years ago.
As I spent some 3 hours or so at his farm, he told me of his dream to turn the venture into a million dollar business in the next five years.
Dominic Harare Urban Agriculture Hortculture Farmer
How it all began…
Dominic was like any other 25 year old just under a year ago when he was invited by a friend to attend the annual Young Farmers Club Summit in Harare. An accountant by training with no farming experience nor agriculture knowledge whatsoever he left the event on cloud 9 after hearing inspiring stories from many other people of his age.
Still living with his parents he convinced them to give him a 400 square metre plot in the backyard of their Belvedere home where he grew up. With no savings of his own, they further extended a helping hand of US$300.00.
Dominic kicked off his venture in October 2014 growing nearly 6000 lettuce heads which happened to be the best move at the time as he told me lettuce is among one of the most consumed vegetables by urbanites in Zimbabwe.
The crop grows all year round in six to eight week cycles and is constantly in demand. Through the growing of this crop, despite the present imperfections, Dominic saw the real potential of what he had gotten himself involved in.
His very first sale was to a Mbare Musika middle man who paid him cash on the spot and took 200 lettuce heads he had to the market.
Developing a model…
The young and highly motivated farmer told me that because the old system of horticulture had virtually gone with Zimbabwe’s pre-land reform agriculture economy there was practically room for as many people as possible to enter the horticulture market.
Through wisdom gathered in his interaction with the market and the apparent let down from running out of crop, he set out to create a sustainable model that would guarantee produce to his customers as much as possible as and when it was needed.
The approach he is currently pursuing involves identifying two or three crops to specialize in based on market research and growing those following a cyclic model aimed at satisfying a predefined market.
He told me, in his experience, the key to success in the horticulture business is in supplying what the consumer wants and of the right quality and doing all this in a consistent manner. His current line of produce includes lettuce, coriander, and parsley among others.
Mechanizing the farm…
When he started off, Dominic did the work himself watering with a bucket and tilling the land. Since then, he has been able to hire labor when needed and has made small but steady steps to introduce some technology such as small strategically located water tanks and is now looking to implement drip feed irrigation techniques.
Water is obviously an issue in Harare. The very humble and resourceful farmer told me he determined to work with what he had which included city water, rain harvesting during the rainy season as well as help from a supportive neighbor who owns a borehole.
He found himself on the front lines of dexterity in a bid to find methods to reduce water usage on his crops. This included using mulch sourced from a nearby school as a by-product of manicured lawns.
He is not alone…
In a hilarious illustration, Dominic introduced himself as the last born in a family of urban farmers humorously referring to his brothers and sisters in arms scattered around the city.
The point he was making here was that there are other more developed young urban farmers who have long gone ahead of him and who have done extremely well financially in horticulture business. These farmers grow mushrooms, tomatoes, baby-marrow and cauliflower among a whole range of other advanced market oriented produce.
It was therefore not hard to identify his source of inspiration and his confidence for the future.
Credit: Zimba’s and emerging young farmers