The first female commercial farmer featured on Niche Farmers!

One ordinary day, Zama Ncwane called her ex-boss for an opinion of the true strengths she displayed in the corporate environment, as she believed this may give her an idea of what to do next. A few days later, she was shadowing him at his new farm, where she completely fell in love with farming, which inspired her to pursue a business in farming too.

Today, she is a well-established female commercial farmer who supplies cabbage on a large scale to the Joburg and Tshwane markets as well as to local restaurants and a number of agri-processing businesses. Whilst the ‘what’ she did is no doubt extraordinary, Zama is hopeful that the ‘why’ she did it will become her true legacy.

‘Why’ she did it was to lead her children by example, to teach them that you need to show up every day and work hard to create a better life for yourself, instead of relying on others. In the process, she has made a lot of sacrifices, spending a lot of time away from them in the present to build the farm that will become theirs in the future

When looking at the cabbage market in South Africa, it becomes clear that Zama’s sacrifices are well worth it for her family and will continue to be worth it for her children, who will one day build on the empire she established. 

Because it is relatively affordable, cabbage is a staple food in almost every household in our country. We eat it raw (as coleslaw), cooked (in stews, soups or stir-fry dishes) or pickled in the form of sauerkraut, which is German for ‘sour cabbage’. The fact that this Rainbow Nation loves its cabbage is reflected in the numbers: we consume more than 160 000 tonnes of cabbage per year.

Our exports also show notable growth year on year. In 2019, for example, we exported cabbage to the value of US$3.17 million, which was a 12.13% increase from the previous year. The top three destinations to which we export are on our own continent – Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique.

Interestingly, exports do not constitute our biggest cabbage market, as most of what we produce is consumed right here on domestic soil. As best said by Zama, “We are lucky in the sense that the locals buy whatever else we produce as well.” What is also lucky, is that pretty much anyone can start producing cabbages from pretty much anywhere, as they are robust vegetables that grow quite easily. 

So, whether you wish to feed your own family or your community, you could get some seeds and plant them, according to the instructions, in your own backyard garden or in pots. Or, if you have a piece of land that is currently unused, you can go bigger like Zama has.

There are many varieties of cabbage, and they’re commonly classified in four colours: green, white, red and purple. The different varieties are planted during different seasons of the year, so if you mix it up, you can basically produce cabbage all year round.

Ideally, cabbage should be planted in full sun in well-drained, well-fertilised soil. Then, of course, you’ll also need to protect them against bugs and pests. Zama’s advice to anyone who’s considering growing cabbage on a larger scale is to form partnerships with people who are experts at what they do, so you can tap into their knowledge.

One such partnership that has been very valuable to her, has been with Corteva Agriscience, who are world leaders in crop protection, with first-hand insight into the conditions that South African farmers face. 

“A specialist from Corteva has been walking this journey with me, visiting my farm regularly to check on my crops and advising me step by step on what to do and what products to use to best protect my crops and get the most out of them,” Zama shares. 

If Zama’s story has awakened your inner farmer, have a look at how Corteva Agriscience can help you succeed at You can also share and learn with other niche farmers, by following @NicheFarmers on Facebook.