Dr Ethel Zulu is a remarkable small farmer on the rise.
She uses her in-depth understanding of nutrition and years of experience to produce organic chickens and vegetables on her farm, aiming to empower other women to become commercial farmers.
Zulu, 48, who holds a doctorate in nutrition, owns a 23-hectare farm in Cullinan outside Pretoria, where she produces and agro-processes organic veggies and chickens that she supplies to several supermarkets.
Her farm also hosts 20 students who are pursuing agricultural studies for training. Zulu left her job at the North West department of agriculture to start her training agency, Hope Nutrition Business Consultants.
This was after she relocated to Gauteng but could not find a job as a nutritionist. She is passionate about agriculture and her vision is to get as many women as possible into farming, a field she believes has the potential to empower and create jobs.
“I served for eight years, working with agricultural extension officers, and we helped many farmers with food safety, hygiene and nutrition. Agriculture has been my passion since I was young, and I never imagined myself doing anything else.”
Through her training agency, Zulu works across six provinces, helping women and young people to run their farming operations.
In 2017, Zulu realised that her training was meaningless without results, so she bought a farm and put her knowledge into action.
Today, she has become a commercial poultry farmer with more than 7,500 broilers. Her initial plan was to produce only organic vegetables.
“I needed chickens for manure. I would go to people’s houses to collect it to keep my veggies organic. That is how the idea of the broilers came about. Within two years, we produced 5,000 broilers and started to supply local supermarkets.”
She said her chickens are free-range and organic, with zero hormones. She uses chicken manure to grow vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage and peppers.
In addition to supermarkets, Zulu also supplies her produce to hawkers. Her operation is so successful that she employs 12 women permanently.
According to Zulu, poultry is the most critical sector in the country, as most families consume chicken more than any other kind of meat.
Zulu has hopes of training more than 1,000 women in farming across the country each year. She is also set on being one of SA’s trusted producers of free-range chickens and organic vegetables.
She advises aspiring female farmers to start small and not wait for government support. “When government support finds you, it will be a boost. If you need to produce 3,000 broilers, nothing stops you from starting with 20. Approach local supermarkets to get their specifications on the quality they want, and work in groups so that you can meet their quality and quantity demands.”
Zulu believes agriculture can play a role in empowering women economically and creating more jobs for women.
“If you empower a woman, you empower the nation. We are able to share our knowledge and get more people involved.”
She said women do not have to limit themselves to primary agriculture but need to explore other aspects of the industry such as agro-processing, packaging and reselling.
“Financial independence is the only thing that can help us end the scourge of gender-based violence and that can be achieved through farming, among other things.”
– This article first appeared in GCIS's Vuk'Uzenzele