Nqobani Ndlovu | February 18, 2013
Kheyi Masuku laboured for years as a farm worker at Kentuay, a farm that specialized in tree plantations. The main fruit crops were oranges and avocados, grown for the domestic market in Zimbabwe and for export. Then, in 2000, he became one of the thousands of farm workers left jobless by the ongoing farm invasions.
Mr. Masuku explains, “I returned home when I was left jobless. I did not have any educational qualifications. All that I knew was fruit tree plantations.” But the invaluable experience Mr. Masuku gained at the farm led him to start his own fruit plantation in 2002.
In Zimbabwe, households are granted communal land of about five hectares. Mr. Masuku’s family fields are in the Nkayi area of Matabeleland, about 170 kilometres southwest of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. Many communal fields grow food solely for household consumption, but some farmers are able to make these lands profitable. Mr. Masuku started growing mangoes, avocados and oranges.
Because of his experience and expertise, village chiefs granted him additional land. Mr. Masuku’s tree plantations now cover 10 hectares. Much of the work is done by his family, but he also employs five labourers.
Mr. Masuku hires trucks to take his produce to Bulawayo’s market. His crops ripen in different seasons, which is a benefit. He explains, “The good thing is that these fruits are seasonal and that means I have income throughout the year.”
Mr. Masuku produces about 1000 trays each of oranges, avocados and mangoes for sale. A tray sells for around US $8, depending on the season and the market.
Mr. Masuku also has a nursery with citrus and indigenous trees. He grows saplings in empty beer containers, and currently has about 20,000 available for sale. Each one sells for US$ 5. He is passionate about reforestation, and tries to encourage others to follow his lead. Although the market for tree saplings is small, he often donates some of his stock to encourage reforestation. He says ordinary people don’t yet have much interest in buying trees, except for traditional healers.
Mr. Masuku explains, “I have a lot of these indigenous tree plants that traditional healers use for treating their patients. Traditional healers are my main customers for saplings.”
He says, “My wish is to own a farm and a fruit processing factory.” If he had a farm of his own, Mr. Masuku is certain that in five years he could be producing five million trays of oranges or avocados. But he would have to borrow money to buy a farm, and banks are not keen on lending to farmers.
Most fruit in Zimbabwe is sold unprocessed, and there is a strong market for processed fruit. Mr. Masuku thinks that he could make good money if he set up a processing plant.
He says, “Other countries like South Africa and Ghana have vast tracts of tree plantations, and factories that process fruits to make juices. It is possible to do the same in Zimbabwe.”