Agripreneur Zandile Kumalo, 31, is the co-founder and managing director of Neighbour Roots.
After obtaining a diploma in analytical chemistry at the Vaal University of Technology, her journey began when she transformed a 2 000m² backyard space into a garden to raise awareness about hunger.
Her interest in agriculture led her to a project with We Cultivate Africa, where she was a quality analyst, working with Bamboo. She then became an accredited carbon sequestration footprint analyst and led the research and development department at Bamboo.
Zandile raised the funds to construct two climate-smart hydroponic farms. The one on the roof of Morningside Shopping Centre in Joburg supplies fresh produce to the mall’s restaurants. She has created job opportunities for 10 young people, equipping them with hydroponic skills.
In addition, she has raised funds for smart farms at township schools. She hosts farm tours for schools, educating and inspiring the next generation.
In 2021, Zandile received an Excellence in Agriculture award for the youngest woman to pioneer innovation in urban agriculture from the Charlotte Mannya Maxeke Institute; in 2022, she won an Inaugural National Presidential SMME award and in 2023 was the Food Lovers Market Seeds of Change winner.
One of the most valuable things she has learnt is that women can be as successful in farming as men. “By empowering female farmers, I believe we can create a more inclusive and diverse agricultural community, driving positive change and progress.”
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Your hard work and resilience are shaping a brighter future for South Africa. Keep breaking barriers, challenging stereotypes and inspiring others with your passion and expertise. Remember, your role is crucial and your impact is immeasurable.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
As a female farmer, I empower myself and women around me by fostering a supportive and inclusive community. I actively seek opportunities to share my knowledge and expertise with other women in the agri-tech space, providing mentorship and guidance to help them thrive in the field. Through networking and collaboration, I connect with other female farmers, creating a platform for sharing experiences and best practices.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
In the farming sector of South Africa, if I could change or achieve one thing today, it would be to ensure equitable access to resources and opportunities for all farmers, regardless of their background or location. This includes providing financial support, modern agricultural technologies and education and training programmes. By promoting a level playing field, we can empower farmers to reach their full potential, boost agricultural productivity and contribute to the nation’s food security and economic growth. Additionally, fostering sustainable farming practices and environmental stewardship is crucial in building a resilient and thriving agricultural sector for the future.