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Zimbabwe’s only female croc farmer blazes a trail



VIMBAI Dzingirai (32), a crocodile farmer based in Harare, starts off her day by flushing out dirty water from the ponds, and refilling them.


While the pools house a float of freshwater Nile crocodiles, she has become familiar with them and has learnt how to maintain their hygiene without agitating their temper.

“Depending on their moods, they can be very territorial and aggressive if you enter their space and get too close on certain days,” Dzingirai told The NewsHawks.

“But they also do know people based on scent and when there is a foreign scent from the one they are used to they can attack. There have been incidents when removing the water where certain crocodiles might not be in the mood to move yet you’re trying to clean. If you poke them, they can growl or hiss or bellow as their way of being territorial and standing their ground.”

Dzingirai has defied odds by becoming Zimbabwe’s first crocodile farmer, establishing her companies Vimbai’s Crocodylidae Products, Tanning and Taxidermy and Vimbai’s Organic Poultry and Crocodile Meat Supplies.

This is happening at a time when women are still struggling to make inroads into the commercial farming business.

She also co-owns a crocodile-siring partnership with her mentor, which is currently running in Masvingo.

While very few farmers have been keen to enter into crocodile farming, Dzingirai has been a pioneer, aiming for the stars to create a new path for women while showing other women that they can do anything.

Last year she was crowned Female Farmer of the Year, and Runner-Up in the Piggery category, adding to some of her numerous accolades.

While the reptilians require attention, she has been juggling between them and education, having been selected for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Centre programme, while in March this year, she was in the United States of America for the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) for Social Entrepreneurship.

“Most women struggle and at times end up being exposed to sexual harassment and unpleasant scenarios just trying to secure employment. I also have a corporate social responsibility in my area and I mostly channel my energy and resources to disenfranchised groups,” she says.

“In a world where most people are about profits, my employees are a priority first and I try to give them a reasonable salary. Not because I have, but because they are basically the ones who run the organisation in my absence and make sure profits are channeled back into the companies productively.

Dzingirai is not new to the farming business as she serves as a director in two other companies, and has been specialising in piggery, organic poultry and cattle ranching (pen fattening).

“My zeal is not only affiliated to for-profit ventures only, as there are many other social initiatives I partake, covering environmental conflict and conservation as well as gender equity. I was mentored by my business partner, a white farmer and was taught everything from scratch — first as an employee until we became business partners.

“There are no entrepreneurship courses that cover crocodile farming and my only way of entering the space was through someone who was already in it.”

Vimbai has been the protagonist in her story, overcoming hurdles within the tough and male-dominated crocodile farming industry.

“The trade or community of people doing it is very small. The big players also want to a certain extent to monopolise the trade. So, information sharing is difficult if you are not in any association,” she says.

“I know I tried for a whole five years to join a certain association. Only last year did I eventually get a direct link to a person in a position to assist. I have not joined yet because of the percentage needed to part with as a handling fee to them.

“Such that I know the benefits that come with being their member but also considering calculations, I feel it might be a disadvantage to, especially when you are under a small and medium business enterprise. Maybe having favourable conditions in a black-owned association would be beneficial.”

She also said her work has been hindered in some instances by the limited number of tanneries and processing plants to do value addition and make products in the country, which are crucial for making processed products.

“Well, crocodile farming is not a popular trade amongst us black Zimbabweans, so being a female crocodile farmer itself is breaking the barriers. It is a predominantly white-dominated trade and also male-dominated trade, that the mere fact of my consistent existence and operation in it says a lot,” she says.

“Truthfully, I cannot paint a rosy picture of balances because time and again I fail to. Most times people just see the end product and never the journey. So, when I look at some of my current failures or shortcomings, I cannot honestly say I have succeeded in finding balances to be where I am today.

“I also believe my companies are unique in that I mostly accommodate female employees not because of the gender card but because I personally feel more opportunities are swayed in favour of men.”

According to a 2017 United Nations Environment Programme, over 2 million crocodile skins are traded annually around the world, with Zimbabwe ranking as the world’s second-largest exporter of the reptile products after the United States of America.

The increase in cheaper, high-quality leather worldwide has also raised the demand for superior products, increasing pressure on Zimbabwe’s producers to continue to improve their offerings.

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