A Zimbabwean-born farmer has been allocated a council farm in the United Kingdom where he will grow crops popular in southern Africa, including white maize and jelly melon.
Media reports say David Mwanaka (57) is one of seven new farmers who are joining more than 160 other on Cambridge Shire County Council’s 13 340 hectare estate.
He said securing a tenancy “was a dream come true” for him and his wife, Brenda after starting with a few acres 20 years ago.
The couple will farm 147ha at Landbeach, just north of Cambridge.
“For past 20 years, we’ve been working so hard, so it was a dream come true for us. We cried with excitement at the news, we’re overjoyed,” Mwanaka said.
He started growing white maize because he missed it when he moved to the UK in 1991.
In Zimbabwe, Mwanaka worked as journalist in Zimbabwe, and in the UK, after doing a variety of jobs, he “became fed up with formal employment” and decided to grow some of the foodstuffs he missed from home.
“I realised there was a vacuum between what’s grown in this country and what’s sold,” he said.
However, he was told it was impossible to grow the sub-Saharan staple white maize in the UK, but rented 4ha in Enfield, London to try it out.
He now grows 40ha of white maize on a 60ha farm at Ware, Hertfordshire, including white sweetcorn, mustard greens, jelly melons and pumpkins – for their leaves as well as the fruit.
“We sell the white maize all over the UK but it has a shelf life of one day, so you have to pick and deliver it on the same day – or freeze it,” he said.
The couple commutes from Basildon, Essex, so are looking forward to living on their new farm at Landbeach.
The council’s chair of strategy and resources, Lucy Nethsingha, said the new farmers will “join other tenants who continue to work hard, evolve farming practices and work to promote the enhancement of biodiversity”.