Nonhlanhla Gumede, director of the KwaZulu-Natal based UThandimvelo Farm, walked away from a thriving career working for a major financial services company in 2011, to join her family’s struggling sugarcane farming business.

“I studied financial management and my career was on the rise,” she says. “But when the business ran into some challenges, I felt a calling to join my father at the farm he started in 2003. I started out as a general worker, doing almost everything the farm workers did and my passion grew from there.”

Humble beginnings

Gumede’s father, Mahlakaniphana (meaning ‘the ever wise one’) started his career in farming in the early 1980s before any of his children were born. He began working for a 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 Hulett offered black people opportunities to purchase farms under the Erlard Programme. 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 5 500 tons to 1 000 tons overnight.

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

Financing and technical support

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 with great difficulty.

“The injection from Mintirho has meant that the farm will go from 3 500 tons in this year’s harvest, to 6 000 tons 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.”

Development potential

In 2018, the farm was only able to plant 70ha out of 112ha of usable land. Although the Gumede family owns 170ha of land, the remaining 58ha 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. – Press release, CCBSA