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David is king of the crops

SUCCESS STORY: Maize farmer David Mwanaka

IT’S FAIR to say that most African Caribbeans would struggle if they were asked to name a successful black farmer.

If one did come to mind, it would most likely be Wilfred Emmauel Jones, the Wiltshire-based farmer who is behind the famous Black Farmer range of sausages and sauces and who was tipped by Prime Minister David Cameron as a future Conservative MP.

But there is another black farmer who, over the last decade, has turned a small farm near Enfield, north London, into a thriving business.

Former journalist David Mwanaka has been enjoying success as the only person in the UK to produce white maize, a crop that is normally grown in Africa, South America and parts of Asia.

And despite critics telling him that his plans to grow maize in the UK would never work because the climate wasn’t right for it, Mwanaka has wowed UK food lovers on the lookout for new organic produce. As well as having major supermarket chains such as Sainsbury’s, Harrods and Selfridges among his client list, his company, Mwanaka Fresh Farm Foods, makes deliveries to shops and restaurants all over the country.

But the business success that he now enjoys is a long way from his early days in this country after arriving here from Zimbabwe in 1991. Frustrated by the lack of a free press in the southern African country, he hoped to continue his work as a journalist. However, it proved much tougher than he thought. And despite gaining further qualifications in journalism and sociology in the UK, he was still unable to find the job that he wanted.

TENDENCY

“When you’re coming to the UK from a developing country, there is a tendency to think that the streets are paved with gold,” Mwanaka says. “But when you come over, it’s cold, it’s damp, and at the same time, you don’t get a job straight away so it was very frustrating.”

Realising that he had to put his dreams on hold, he took a range of other jobs to support his wife Brenda and their young children, including “a spell as a traffic warden which I hated”.

But another disappointing aspect of life in the UK was not being able to enjoy the foods that he had grown up with in Zimbabwe, including his favourite - white maize. He tried to find it in shops and markets that sold African and Caribbean food, but nobody stocked it. So, in 1996, he decided to start growing it himself, persuading the landlord of his flat in Tottenham, north London, to use a small plot of the back garden.


SHARED JOURNEY: David with his wife Brenda

“My wife just thought it was one of those pipe dreams that would never come to anything,” he recalls.

His first efforts were unsuccessful. In fact, it took another five years and many late nights before he finally grew a successful crop and eventually convinced Brenda that it was a project worth pursuing.

Initially the maize was just for himself and his friends to enjoy. But he soon realised that there might be a market for his produce and in 2002, he set about trying to find farmland to grow maize.

“I travelled around the countryside looking for some farmland, just knocking on farmers’ doors asking if they had any land to spare. They just looked at me suspiciously and the answer was always no. So I thought I’d try something else and I put an advert in the Loot, the free ads paper.”

The ad didn’t bring any interest either. However, it did attract a call from a journalist at The Observer who decided he wanted to support Mwanaka and wrote an article about his efforts to become the UK’s first maize farmer.

OFFER

The publicity led to a call from a college in Enfield, north London, which owned ten acres of farmland near the A10 and were happy to rent it to him. Although he wanted more, Mwanaka accepted the offer.

“In my first year, I produced a successful crop but couldn’t sell much of it because very few people in the UK knew anything about maize. But the business grew by word of mouth as people from southern African countries such as South Africa, Namibia and and Botswana who were living and working in the UK got to hear about what I was doing.”

Now in 2013, Mwanaka employs up to seven people in his business. He also sells a range of other products such as pumpkin leaves, tsunga [mustard leaves] and sweet potatoes from his farm shop in Enfield, as well as owning more land in Salisbury which is farmed by his business partner.

While Mwanaka plans to expand his farming business, he is working on several other projects which he is passionate about, such as working on a feature film script.

He also wants to pursue his other love - music. He plays in a R&B group with his son and niece and they are busy gearing up to release a new single and video. But just don’t ask him to take lead vocals.

“I can’t sing,” he laughs. “A friend of mine told me ‘never ever sing and I would have to agree with him. I just haven’t got the voice so my niece who is in the group does the singing and I play bass while my son plays drums.”

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