FEMALE FARMERS PROMOTE AGRITOURISM
Agritourism unlocks economic potential in rural areas, providing visitors with a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of farming while creating much-needed jobs. Along the KZN South Coast, CULTURE Tours are proving a successful initiative.
“Promoting tourism in the hinterland region while supporting our women tourism operators is a major drive for us and we’re excited to shine a spotlight on these three exceptional women,” said Phelisa Mangcu, CEO of South Coast Tourism and Investment Enterprise (SCTIE).
Named after its three, women founders – Busisiwe Lubanya, Bongi Lushaba and Slindile Zondi – BBS Farm was first established as a subsistence farm but quickly grew in popularity with its founders finding a niche market in commercial produce.
Today, BBS Farm offers farm tours showcasing organically-grown produce, a tour of the farm’s hydroponic system that waters the world-class tomato selection (including the heritage tomato!) and a macadamia tour. Visitors can also fish for carp, tilapia and bass at the dam or simply enjoy some good food and a cup of coffee while admiring some great views.
The trio decided to start their own enterprise after finding themselves with the right certifications, but without employment. Bongi recalls meeting Busisiwe and Slindile at a co-operative summit where the three of them were elected onto the committee as secretary, chairperson and treasurer respectively.
“The three of us were unemployed graduates so we decided to work together, helping other co-operatives and also training further in the industry. We then decided to register our farm as the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development was running a programme calling for such proposals, and we were lucky,” recalled Bongi.
“I studied Plant Production in Agriculture at MUT (Mangosuthu University of Technology) and, as an unemployed graduate in 2004, I decided to get into a cooperative movement. In 2005 I met Bongi and Busi and we decided to put our experience and knowledge to good use,” explained Silindile
After securing land through the department, and a loan through Ithala Bank, the team embarked on their agricultural journey.
“We decided to create tunnels for farming and identified produce that is not common or easily sourced to create more market demand. We started with our Heritage tomatoes which come in a variety of red, green, yellow, orange and maroon, which we then packaged differently, mixing in cherry tomatoes. People were very keen on this,” added Busisiwe.
In terms of their roles, Busi focuses on production, Slindile deals with finance, while Bongi is in charge of labour relations. The success of their venture gained attention, with the department bringing students to learn more about the tunnel and irrigation system, and how
the team developed their own seeds. Busisiwe also acknowledged the local municipality and SCTIE for providing training that allowed them to develop into an agritourism business.
“Agritourism is not an easy industry and we’re just getting started, but our farming is unique and that attracts visitors. For women looking to get into agriculture, I’d suggest looking for something different, something that hasn’t been done already. It’s hard work, it takes dedication, time and patience, but if you put in the work, you can make a difference,” she pointed out.
Slindile agreed, stating: “Agriculture is male- and white-dominated industry and it was a big challenge just getting into the market, but we were able to gain trust through our persistence, passion and perseverance. We established ourselves as well-known female farmers on the South Coast.”
Commenting on the shift into agritourism, Silindile said the farming environment is the best way to de-stress and get up close to nature: “I would advise women to get into farming and agritourism as this industry plays a massive part in increasing our economy. As women, we need to do our part to empower our country through the economy.”
However, Bongi said entering the marketplace as a woman is still challenging: “I think we need to overcome this challenge of breaking into the marketplace by creating an association representing women in agriculture so we can speak with one voice.”
She said the agri-tourism industry had assisted them greatly in achieving further exposure, with many people visiting the farm to learn more about operations, either for future farming endeavours or out of interest.
“My advice to women is to keep pushing, to not focus on the money but rather improving the business. Then everything will fall into place,” she said.
The Zama family started this agricultural co-operative in 2017 on a smallholding in Amandawe as a mixed farming venture. They produced choice-grade crops which gained local consumer attention, prompting the shift to commercial farming with the addition of a retail sector as well.
“The smallholding has always been owned by our dad and we all got involved as we grew up. We currently have sugar cane, seasonal vegetables, macadamia nuts and bananas growing on the farm, running under a family-owned business,” explained Nelly.
SCTIE identified the farm as an ideal addition to the Agri-CULTURE Tours, which has proved a success for tourism and the Zama family.
“We have been fortunate enough to engage with individuals who are very interested in the product and are willing to assist. Agritourism is an educational and fun experience for many and the KZN South Coast is fortunate in that it is made up of a farming community, from small-scale to commercial. The area is already a worldwide tourist attraction, now with agritourism, there’s an added drawcard for tourists – a different take on the tourism sector,” continued Nelly.
Nolwazi agreed, adding: “Our offering is different as we don’t only have the crop, we also make products from some of our produce, including chilli jam. We are excited to announce that our chilli jam is now stocked in one of the South Coast’s gems, Fifi Fish Shop.”
Sharing her advice for women looking to get into the industry, Nelly said: “Now is the time! Tourists want to hear you share your story as a farmer. Becoming a member with the South Coast Tourism and investment Enterprise is a great step in the right direction as you will receive the correct training and the advice. Working long hours and getting your products in markets requires patience and effort, but it is all worth it in the end.”
Nolwazi added: “The agriculture and tourism industries are very important in our communities. We now have women who farm vegetables like yams and sweet potatoes, and who sell chickens to our communities and shops. My advice is to start small-scale and grow your produce as the demand grows. Through tourism, you can share your experience with people who are interested in seeing your products before they are packed – this is a great opportunity to educate the public.”
Ubumbano Farm offers farm tours to witness growing techniques, harvesting and a chance to sample fresh produce, home-made eats from the farm stall and a picnic under the trees. Tourists can shop at Ubumbano Farm Stall which stocks freshly-made macadamia nut and rocket pesto, macadamia nut biscuits and brittle, baked mielie loaf and steamed mielie bread. There’s also locally-manufactured arts, crafts and other memorabilia in the curio shop.