UK based Farmer David Mwanaka’s a-maizing journey to top of the crops

When Mwanake came to the UK in 1991, farming was the last thing on his mind.

Growing up in Zimbabwe he used to help his dad farm seed cabbage and potatoes, but he wanted to be a journalist.

He soon had his wish, but journalism wasn’t what he thought it would be.

Around him colleagues were being harassed or arrested if they criticised the then dictatorship ruled by Robert Mugabe. Censorship was widely applied.

“I was lucky enough not to be detained (but) in working in such an environment you would not feel you are doing what you are able to do. It was frustrating, so in 1991 I left,” Mwanaka said.

He came to the UK hoping to continue being a journalist, but hit other barriers here.

“I couldn’t get a job,” he said.

He went on to study journalism and sociology, thinking UK qualifications would boost his chances, but nothing changed.

“I still couldn’t get a job linked to my qualifications so I worked as a parking attendant, in factories, in a bank. I was in so many places and I simply couldn’t get to do what I wanted to do.”

So he came up with a new idea – farming.

The Basildon, Essex resident said he came by the idea by chance.

“I enjoyed eating and in Zimbabwe we like white maize but when I came over to the UK, there was no white maize.

“I would go to the market and I couldn’t find it, and I started thinking one day while walking around I would come across a shop that sells white maize.

“But it never happened so I came to thinking that instead of always dreaming that someone is going to grow the maize for me, or that I will find it in a shop, why not grow it for myself and my family?

“From there, I started experimenting with growing maize in my garden,” added the father of three.

But getting into farming was not easy. Growing white maize was new to him and he had no encouragement from UK agricultural experts, who told him growing white maize in Britain was impossible.

“It took six years before I could grow it commercially. It was trial and error. There was no book that could teach me how to grow white maize in this country.

“I remember calling some agricultural experts and they told me that you can’t grow white maize in this country.

“At one point it was like a dead end. You try to do something but you still cannot get the help from anyone because nobody has the experience and everybody tells you, you can’t do it,” he said.

“But I kept telling myself that irrespective of what everyone is saying, let me keep trying.

“So I keep trying and after some years, I started growing the maize,” Mwanaka said.

“I had a passion for farming and that kept me going.”

Now, he is one of only two black farmers in Britain. The other is well known Conservative Party member Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, who sells sausages and other products under the Black Farmer brand.

Mwanaka now tills fields in Wiltshire, Leicestershire, and Enfield, in north London. Mwanaka is often accompanied by his wife Brenda, and three young children.

He also grows choumoellier (kale), green mustard leaves, sweet potatoes and pumpkins.

His white maize and derivatives such as white sweet corn has helped bring growing success to Mawanaka Fresh Farms Foods, the business he runs with Brenda.

His white sweet corn is now stocked on the shelves of supermarket giant, Sainsbury’s. And he even sends some shipments to Northern Ireland.

“It is satisfying to go into Sainsbury’s and pick up the white sweet corn and know this is work of my hand,” he said.

But Mwanaka says this is only the beginning. He is determined to keep reaching for success and tilling the soil, despite an incident recently where Leicestershire police came and questioned him three times in five days after white neighbours called them to report him as stealing crops in a field.

He was quizzed for 30 minutes and had to provide proof of his identity.

Mwanaka is reluctant to attribute what happened to racism. He said he will not let such incidents stop him – and neither should other black people.

“I want it to grow and get better. I am looking for more markets and in the bigger supermarkets.

“If I get my products in all the big supermarkets, I would be very happy.

“I also hope to keep floating even in these difficult times,” said Mwanaka.

He also plans to develop his creative talents, in music and as a playwright.

“There is nothing that stops us from doing what we want to do. It is often us who hold ourselves back,” he said.

“What I don’t like is the thought that we cannot do anything because of racism.

“I think that is a lame excuse for not doing something. It is up to us to do what we want to, whether there is or isn’t racism,” said Mwanaka.