Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Adapting…and how

How extension work can facilitate faster on-farm change or motivation of farmers is the subject of Tafadzwa Manjala’s Nuffield scholarship next year.

A New Zealand resident for 10 years, Tafi, as he’s better known in his current role of DairyNZ Northland’s manager, got into NZ dairy farming in mid-winter 2002 in Waimate, South Canterbury.

“Every day during that first month I felt like quitting, and I was carrying around hot water just to warm up my hands for work,” he said.

He came from Zimbabwe (where the temperature was about three times higher) to assess his prospects of emigration, while leaving his wife and first baby son behind. He borrowed the fare from his mother, now living in the UK, to look around for a month, on unofficial leave of absence from his non-government organisation (NGO) job in agriculture back home. Friend Joseph Nyemba, now working for ASB Bank in Waikato, had pioneered the immigration route to South Island dairying seven months before.

“Joseph made it from farm assistant to herd manager and his success gave me the courage to stay,” Tafi said.

He applied to bring wife Whitney and baby Rufaro (now 10) to NZ and vowed to learn as much as he could about large-scale dairying. He worked for Dairy Holdings for two seasons, and was assistant farm manager on a 700-cow farm at Hinds when he applied for and gained his first DairyNZ consulting officer job, in Northland. Credit was due to Dairy Holdings chief executive Colin Glass and farms supervisor Gary McGregor, he said.

Tafi’s grandfather and father worked in commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe, mainly in broad-acre cropping. He attended English-speaking schools and then Chibero College of Agriculture for a three-year diploma. He completed a three-year bachelor of science in agriculture, majoring in crop sciences, through the University of Zimbabwe while working weekends and holidays in the farm district of Bindura. A friend of the family bought a farm and asked Tafi to manage it remotely.

After finishing his degree and marrying Whitney, who has the same qualifications, he was resident farm manager for a year, interrupted by land occupations by army veterans and heavy-handed treatment such as “borrowing” of farm machinery.

Eighteen months followed working for the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-arid Tropics (Icrisat) in Bulawayo, where an Australian colleague suggested NZ as a farming powerhouse.

“All I knew of NZ was Jonah Lomu and the 1995 Rugby World Cup,” he said. “The political situation was deteriorating and after the election in 2001 when ZanuPF won I couldn’t see any stability and confidence returning to agriculture.”

All land is state-owned and Tafi can’t see any prospects of family farm ownership.

He enrolled in level four AgITO courses in Canterbury to boost his understanding of the new agricultural systems, and is currently studying for a masters degree in agriculture from Massey University. The family moved to Whangarei in 2004, where daughter Rosa (aged 6) was born, and Tafi was consulting officer for Whangarei West for three years, upper North Island manager for two years and now Northland regional manager.

“I have always backed my ability to be adaptive, and the climate of Northland was a big attraction,” he said. “After the first year learning the ropes you have to know what you are talking about when challenging dairy farmers.”

He hopes findings from his Nuffield project can be applied nationally.

Not ones to let the grass grow beneath their feet, Tafi and Whitney have leased land near their suburban home and reared 130 dairy calves last spring, using milk powder and raw milk by arrangement with a local farm. They want to get together enough money for an equity share in a dairy farm.

“I don’t think we could ever go back to Zimbabwe, and now it is all about giving our children the very best opportunities from our immigration.”

The other Nuffield scholars are ANZ rural banker Sophie Stanley, rural entrepreneur Lisa Harper (Dairy Exporter, June 2011, page 148), Meridian Energy national agribusiness manager Natasha King and Southland farmer and retailer Stephen Wilkin.

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