The year 2009 could be described as a life changing decision for Mhlanga when she had to leave her retail business she was running to focus on full time commercial farming project.
She first tasted her rewards from her farming career when she reaped significant financial rewards when she sold her first maize produce. This was her primary agricultural activity from a leased farm. A few years later, she produced maize on three leased communal farms measuring over five hectares at Bethany. There were two hectares at Mlindazwe and three hectares were from Lobamba. A workaholic, Mhlanga, devotes most of her time on farming and determination, she says, arguing this got to her where she was today.
As a vegetable farmer she also produces legumes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, butternuts, spinach, and cabbages on the leased and communal lands. For this a drip irrigation system is used. She was currently having a nursery where she produces vegetable seedlings.
She started her farming career with a loan from an unspecified Inhlanyelo Fund which was used as working capital. This helped her to finance start up infrastructure and farming implements. Inhlanyelo Fund was created to provide seed capital for innovative ideas within community members. Due to scarcity of water, she was able to secure another loan from the fund of E39 000, which she used to construct a 20 metre deep dam within her compound of that measures about five hectares. With the help extension officers from the Ministry of Agriculture, she was able to construct the dam and now irrigates her maize and vegetable plantation. She says she was expecting a bumper harvest next year. “I got this idea of water harvesting during a conducted tour with farmers to Limpompo. Because of the drought these farmers practiced water harvesting by constructing man made dams.”
She admitted that although the pressure she had to undergo falls rather beyond reach of her competitors because of its intensity since farming has to be diversified. Her advice to farmers interested in diversifying their produce needs a farmer to always produce products on demand by the market as well as risk mitigation in the event of natural hazards. Apart from growing maize and vegetables, she is a beekeeper and an indigenous chicken farmer. Since the Ministry of Agriculture launched the indigenous chickens programme concept, she adhered to the call that has seen her now keeping 41 indigenous chickens with six cocks and 36 chicks. She sells the indigenous chickens to Bethel Court around Ezulwini and at Ocean Fresh in Manzini. To ensure her chickens grow well, she feeds her birds with 5 kg mix fowl per day and then supplementing feed with 10 kg of greens and clean water. Mhlanga explained that feeding indigenous chickens was not that expensive as compared to broilers.
On the one hectare plot at her home she has planted herbs such kale, chamomile, thyme and mint. She also manages an orchard on a little piece of land adjacent to her herb garden where she cultivates a variety of fruit trees such as paw-paws, mangoes and litchis. She also practices bee-keeping with 24 Swazi hives consisting of 11 active hives. Each year she produces 100kg of honey, which is graded and sold to Eswatini Kitchen and leading chain stores around Ezulwini and Mbabane. Last year, her food safety was awarded with a Certificate of Competence which allowed her to sell at the Trade Fair using Eswatini Kitchen.
Demand of maize in the country is high due to the impact of drought, selling most of her maize crop to National Maize Corporation (NMC) and to individuals. This year she sold six tonnes of maize to the value of E13 000 to NMC. She sold the rest of her vegetables to hawkers around Mahlanya and Manzini markets.
She is also passionate about women empowerment through mentorship programmes meant at skills transfer to other farmers. Since winning the coveted prize, Mhlanga has combined entrepreneurial acumen with her passion for farming to add value to lives of 490 orphaned vulnerable children under Lobamba Lomdzala Inkhundla. From her five soup kitchens, the children receive a well- balanced diet meal per day through her farming produce. “Some of these children have no one to look after, so it has become my responsibility to give them a better life,” she says. Some of her sponsors include donations from Shoprite, Farm Chemicals and Esicojeni Foundation.
She was also actively involved in projects meant at empowering women and the youth under her constituency. She was currently having 59 emerging women farmers under her care. In the future she would like to open a vocational training for young people especially those interested in agriculture.