2017 Young Farmer Awards winner - Vilakazi Farming Business Enterprise

Some of the hard working women who won prizes at the Young Farmers award ceremony. (Photo: Wikus de Wet/AFP)

Some of the hard working women who won prizes at the Young Farmers award ceremony. (Photo: Wikus de Wet/AFP)

Last year’s winners of the Young Farmer Award, Vilakazi Farming Business Enterprise, have been “overwhelmed but excited” thanks to the visibility they’ve gained for their business, according to Zanele Vilakazi, a 27-year-old, full-time commercial farmer.

Vilakazi and her sister Duduzile were at this year’s event, showing their support for other Gauteng farmers.

“The year has been good to us; we’ve been exposed to a few people and have managed to make connections that has helped the business to grow,” says Zanele.

Their family business started in 2004 through the hard work and dedication of their father. After the passing of their father in 2012, the two sisters, with the support and help from their siblings, continued the business. They worked as full-time commercial farmers, and had to learn very quickly what it takes to be a successful farmer — including tenacity, skill and patience.

“Of course we had our own dreams — I was studying law at Wits but had to deregister to come and work on the farm. I’m glad I did it, because I really have always liked it,” says Zanele.

The farm in Nigel was given to the Vilakazi family by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

“It’s a mixed use farm, so we do a combination of livestock and crops. We are open to the public and you can buy sheep, bales of fodder and yellow maize from us,” says Duduzile. The farm also grows soybeans.

“We’ve been able to increase the number of livestock, and have been able to start and extend our vegetable patch thanks to the award money we won,” says Zanele.

The business has three tractors, a planter, plough, and disc plough and boom sprayer, and the sisters practise crop rotation with maize, soybeans and planted pastures, as well as doing camp rotation to avoid overgrazing.

The sisters’ farm creates employment in the area. There are six permanent workers, and 20 seasonal workers during harvest season.

Besides their contribution to the local economy and poverty alleviation, they support the local church’s orphanage and help upskill their workers through initiatives and workshops held by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Their journey into the agricultural sector hasn’t been easy and was punctuated by the loss of their father, but, says Zanele: “It’s a challenge and learning curve, but it’s not impossible for us females to make it in this industry.

“Gauteng is a fast-paced province, but farming has humbled me. Farming is life, and as black women farmers we are leading the way for the nation.”

Duduzile adds: “I definitely see us growing in this industry; as black women we are making it in a sector dominated by white males.”

Adjudication process and categories

Mpho Tlape, chairperson of the adjudication process for both awards, noted that the nominees went through a rigorous process that included physical site visits.

“The nominees had to be contributing to food security and the wellbeing of their employees in some way, and ownership had to be 80% youth- or women-owned,” Tlape said at the awards event.

From the site visit, a shortlist of candidates was made, and an independent panel of adjudicators came to the decisions on the top three nominees of each section, as well as an overall winner who accumulated the highest amount of points.

“It was important to us to maintain the integrity of the awards and make sure the adjudication process was thorough, transparent, fair and beyond reproach,” said Tlape.

The categories of the two awards are as follows:

Young Farmer Awards:

Best young farm worker

Best young homestead producer

Best young subsistence producer

Best young farmer: smallholder

Top young farmer: processing

Top young farmer: commercial

Top young farmer: Export

Overall winner

Female Entrepreneur Awards:

Best female worker

Best female homestead producer

Best female subsistence producer

Top female entrepreneur: smallholder

Top female entrepreneur: processing

Top female entrepreneur: commercial

Top female entrepreneur: export

MEC Special Award

Overall winner

The judges on the Young Farmer Award adjudication panel were: Thabiso Mudau, Phokele Maponya, Ronald Thomas, Olivia Mapholi and Tlape.

On the adjudication panel for the Female Entrepreneur Awards were: Thabang Nyatlo, Olivia Mapholi, Thabiso Mudau, Ronald Thomas, Phokele Maponya, Mpho Mudau and Tlape.