Petranella started farming on her 1.5ha plot two years ago. Previously, she used to work as an administrator for Save the Children UK and has done a diploma in marketing.
When I started here, it was just bare land. I had to put in the electricity, the water, and prepare the land. Before I started growing, I did a local market survey and identified that there was a shortage of lettuce and so I decided to grow lettuce as it fetches a very good price. I wanted to go for a niche market and so I decided to grow organically. I made contact with ZOPPA and through them I was able to visit organic farmers and learn from them in terms of farming techniques and how they sell their produce. I also visited other local big farmers to learn from them too. My first year I only grew lettuce, and I sold lettuce every single day. But as I was selling the lettuce there was also demand for cabbage tomatoes and peppers. So, this year I am growing them too.
I use chicken manure and all the crops are doing very well. I was harvesting 300kg of tomatoes a week and I harvest about 1,800 heads of lettuce a week too. I stage the planting – planting 4,000 seeds every fortnight – so that I have continuous supply. I sell to big food outlets, local supermarkets and individuals. I sell the lettuce for between 60 – 70 cents a head. The only problem I have is keeping up with demand! I am learning from my experience and using new techniques all the time – from new crops, how much manure to use and when to plant. Some of my crop was destroyed because of the heavy rain so now I am growing the lettuce on ridges so that they do not get destroyed during this rainy season.
I never dreamt that I would be a farmer but I wish I had started this enterprise years ago! It is hard work but it is very rewarding and I am really enjoying it – it is so much more satisfying than just going to the market to buy your vegetables. I am making a good living from my plot – I can send my son to a crèche, I can eat fruits, I am happy!
A company came to my field recently and tried to convince me to use some of their seeds and chemical fertiliser on my crops near the roadside to act as a demonstration plot for their products. But I said no way, I am well satisfied with my organic farming and I won’t change away – you will have to go ask my neighbour!
I have benefited greatly from my membership with ZOPPA. I go to them for advice and I know they will always provide help, and the coordination of ZOPPA means that we can have exchange visits with other organic farmers and learn from each other. It would be great if ZOPPA were able to develop to have dedicated staff that can provide technical support and training, and work directly with us farmers.
The Zim Organic certification will make a big difference. It will give me confidence when I talk to companies as I will be able to prove I am organic. It will help to develop the organic market that really understands what organic is and it will help to add value to my product. From growing just lettuce, now I have many plans for the future. I want to develop drip irrigation, I want to buy chickens so I can use my own manure, I want to have a shed where I can sell my vegetables direct, and ultimately, I would like to buy a truck to xxx.
NOTES: Petranella said that some companies (Classic Supermarket and Spar) are interested in selling organic vegetables and will pay a premium (70cents for lettuce head) for her crops, but other companies (Innscor – large company behind fast food outlets) are not interested, they just want good quality products and good supply and pay a more standard prize (60 cents for a lettuce head). 3 people work on her field and then there is casual labour for weeding. She uses chicken manure that she gets from her neighbour who doesn’t know what to do with it.