Young farmer plants seeds of hope

Seniren Naidoo shows off the red herbs grown on his family's farm. Pictures: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Seniren Naidoo shows off the red herbs grown on his family's farm. Pictures: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 24, 2024


COMING from a family of farmers, Seniren Naidoo, has not only followed the same path, but also added his personal touch by producing the much-loved amaranth, commonly known as "red or green herbs".

Naidoo, 31, of Isnembe, said he currently grew a variety of herbs such as red, green and sugarcane, as well as mint and coriander, and sold thousands of bunches to supermarkets in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng weekly.

He also grows an array of vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, kale, and spinach on his family's nine-hectare farm.

"There is no section on the farm where we have not planted some type of vegetable or herb."

Naidoo said the passion for farming in his family, dated back to his paternal great-grandfather, Chinsamy Narainsamy Naidoo.

"I come from a long-line of farmers. I am not sure what my great-grandfather grew, however, I can recall my grandfather, Siva Naidoo and father, Allan Naidoo working on the farm - planting the seeds and harvesting the produce, which they sold at the market.

“My grandfather grew cucumbers and tomatoes, and later calabash and lima beans as he tried breaking into the Indian market. When my dad took over from him, he started farming on a larger scale and even started tunnel farming, thereafter venturing into growing exotic vegetables such as kerala, snake gourd, cowpeas and tiny beans, which you rarely found in the markets or on the supermarket shelves. He also planted herbs but not on a large scale.

"They would also go to the Clairwood and Warwick Avenue markets about four times a week, and sell their produce out of their van. My dad would also load the vegetables, especially the exotic ones into his van and drive up to Lenasia on Fridays and return on Sunday evenings. As a young boy, I enjoyed spending time on the farm, watching and helping them. I remember my dad paid me R2 for every bucket I filled with vegetables," he said.

Allan Naidoo, Busisiwe Mthethwa and Seniren Naidoo on the family farm where they grow an array of vegetables and herbs.

However at that time, Naidoo, a sales and services manager at a local bank, did not see farming as something he wanted to do long-term.

He said after completing his matric, he went on to pursue further studies, which included obtaining a BCom degree in Accounting.

"While studying I would still help my dad with planting or harvesting. Despite me working at the bank, I still had a passion for farming, mainly because I knew that by sowing a seed, you are growing a vegetable or herb that would be used for a healthy meal to feed a person or family," he said.

Naidoo said his interest in amaranth was sparked around 2013.

"My dad did have a small patch on the farm - but it was not his focus. I was keen to learn more about it. However, unlike all other vegetables, there wasn't much information about it. After spending hours on Google, I learnt that it was actually a weed, one I often saw on the roadside. However, I also learnt that it was a herb that was not only eaten in South Africa, but around Africa, and that it was a superfood, rich in various vitamins and iron, just like the moringa, which I also grow.

"However, when I asked my dad if there was a market for it, he said 'here and there', but he told me, if I was keen, I could start planting it. I was up for the challenge, and thought, like we did with spinach, let us bunch it and push it into the market and see how it goes.

"But there were definite challenges in growing it at first. The herb seed is so thin and if you sprinkle it incorrectly, it can grow too thick, get smashed together and die. We initially made many mistakes; the only thing my dad and I could do was try our own techniques as there wasn't any information on Google, or experts that we could speak to at the time. After much trial and error, I can proudly say that I can plant it correctly and teach others.

“We also became quite popular as word spread about the ‘farmer who was growing these herbs’, as no one else was doing it at such a large scale. The only real challenge is the weather, which is unpredictable. However, it does grow throughout the year, but takes a little longer to harvest during winter. We also produce our own seeds,” he said.

Naidoo said, through farming, his goal was to tackle food insecurity and unemployment especially among the youth.

"I am very passionate about eradicating food insecurity in our country. There are millions of people who are going hungry every day; there is not much of ethnic, traditional vegetable available, yet we are not promoting it.

"Currently, we also provide employment to over 60 people. However, I hope to expand farming operations across the province. If I have more pockets of these kinds of farms, it will provide more employment to people, especially the youth. In addition, I want to provide the seeds and training to people so that they can sustain themselves and their households with food or by generating an income,” he said.

Naidoo admitted that balancing a full-time job and running a farm could be taxing, but it was also fulfilling.

“My day usually starts around 4:30am, as I have to ensure that the workers are aware of their tasks for the day, and when I return in the evening, I have to do the checks. While it can be tiring, when I look at the farm and see the results of the hard work that we all put in, it is rewarding. I also have a feeling of peace within me when I walk through the farm. It is an amazing feeling,” he said.