Chemical engineer turned farmer turns food waste into compost

12 August 2022 - 07:00
Thandiwe Mchunu left her job as a chemical engineer to pursue her farming dream. She makes her own compost by using food waste.
Image: Supplied. Thandiwe Mchunu left her job as a chemical engineer to pursue her farming dream. She makes her own compost by using food waste.

Thandiwe Mchunu is tapping into her background as a chemical engineer to turn food waste into compost for her emerging farm.

Born in the agriculturally vibrant village of Mahlongwa, near Umkomaas, in KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast, Mchunu (38) says her decision to study chemicals was to help marginalised communities, particularly women, to produce food at a cheaper cost.

She believes that everything revolves around chemical engineering, just like agriculture.

With a solid foundation in growing crops that was laid by her late mother, Mchunu left her job in 2018 to work on her 22-hectare farm, which she leased from a local tribal authority. 

While working full-time, she discovered that the majority of industries produced waste that could be used to make compost, but instead that waste ended up at landfill sites. She wishes to use her expertise to make compost that would benefit many emerging farmers in her community.

She grows a variety of vegetables and sells them to the local supermarkets and community.

Her farm employs 10 people seasonally.

“I’m passionate about farming. It has followed me since I was a child and through my career. Wherever I go, I always make sure I have a pot plant to grow something. It fascinates me to watch a plant grow until harvest,” Mchunu says.

With sponsorship from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Mchunu is pursuing a master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is using her farming methods for her research.

While she currently produces a small amount of compost, her main objective is to work with food-processing businesses to bring large amounts of organic waste to her farm so she can use it to make compost through her waste management company, TMGG.

Mchunu says she wants to see more women giving back to their communities by launching projects to share knowledge as a way to honour the role of women in the nation.

"My long-term objective is to do agro-processing and inspire other women by demonstrating our strength."

She said manure, compost and animal feed were expensive farming expenses. "I want to address that issue by utilising food waste from various markets to produce compost and animal feed.”

-This article was originally published in the GCIS Vuk'uzenzele.