With over 1330ha under cultivation Ratelshoek Estate is the largest of the five Tanganda Tea Company estates. Ratelshoek is situated near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique boarder, only 40km East of Chipinge by way of a tarred road. Overlooking the estate in its splendour is somehow magical. With such stunning views unfolding before you one can remain captivated for hours, never tiring of the scenery.
The Ratelshoek estate incorporates the nearby land known as Helvetia and is run as one estate.
Established in 1932 Ratelshoek has concen-trated on tea since its first plantings in 1933. The main varieties grown in the predominantly sandy loam soils being PC 108 and SFS 150.
Boasting four factory lines Ratelshoek has our largest factory capable of producing up to 1,6tonnes made tea per hour. During peak season the factory runs 24 hours a day. After processing and drying the tea is packed into manila paper sacks and transported to a sister estate, New Years Gift, for storage and awaiting transport to our agent in South Africa. Whilst all estates have their own workshops Tanganda has a large Central Workshop handling all fabrication and machining capable of sharpening, repairing or manufacturing almost anything. This central workshop is responsible for the sharpening of all the tea CTC cutters ensuring cutting and processing of the tea is always up to Tanganda’s high standard.
In addition to processing the tea from Ratelshoek’s own 993ha tea plantations the factory handles green leaf purchased from 250 surrounding small scale farmers. Tanganda has always supported the outgrowers not only with a desperately needed market for their tea but with transport, trailers, fertiliser and of course constant technical advice.
With the position of current world markets Tanganda has taken the decision to diversify into other plantation crops. Ratelshoek started planting Macadamias in 2011 and already has over 295ha immature macadamia. Beaumont seeds were chosen for their superior rootstock quality with varieties such as 842 and 849 grafted thereon. Massive nurseries have been established which are brimming with Macadamia cuttings.
Three fly crops will be harvested over 2016, 2017 and 2018 with the crop reaching full potential in 2019. Plans are underway for a de-husker and of course drying facilities which will be in place before the 2016 fly crop is ready for reaping. The macadamias will be handpicked and taken to the new pulpery for dehusking, washing and sorting. Thereafter the nuts will be dried and sold as dry nut in shell.
Another exciting development is the new avocado plantations currently underway. Edranol pips, chosen again for their high quality rootstock, were planted with Hass grafted on, which will produce ideal avocados for export to Europe. Already nearly 48ha have been planted out over 2014 and early 2015 with land prep underway for additional plantings. The first fly crop is expected 2018 whilst 2019 will see the first full harvest of avocados.
Avocados too will be harvested by hand and graded, then crated in the fields before being transported to a neighbouring Tanganda Estate, Tinga Mira, less than 15km away. Tinga Mira are constructing a brand new pack shed which will handle both their own harvests as well as that of Ratelshoek. The pack shed will ensure avocados are correctly sized and sent for export.
In addition to the plantation crops Ratelshoek annually plants 40ha of maize for silage as well as 10ha Rye grass as winter supplementary feed for the beef herd of 150 head and a small dairy herd of 12. The Tanganda estates work together to manage the cattle with Ratelshoek holding steers and heifers, Tinga Mira the young cows and New Years Gift the breeding herd. Cattle graze of the non-arable areas and help to reduce fire hazards. Whilst Tanganda cattle are run as a commercial enterprise the cattle provide the workers with not only milk and lacto but some protein too.
Running an estate of this size requires a large workforce and Ratelshoek is proud to offer employment to over 1,300 people currently. Employment figures change according to season.
Fueling the tea factory is no easy task and to this end Ratelshoek has 675ha of Gum, Wattle and Pine plantations. This provides a reliable and renewable fuel resource.
Another 93ha of indigenous forest can be found though these are protected areas and purely for conservation. The natural flora found therein is bounteous and simply exquisite.
As hunting or trapping of animals is strictly forbidden conservation areas provide a safe haven to many creatures from incredible birdlife, a wide variety of snakes and small mammals. The most common animals are of course baboons, monkeys and night apes, squirrels, wild hares, brown mongoose, jackals, waterbuck and even bushbuck.
These indigenous forests have yet another important function, playing a large role in the community. For instance Tsipotwi Hill was once the main area for the “makoto” (rain making ceremonies), though ceremonies are now held nearer the recreation hall. Rain making ceremonies are practised by elderly men and women beyond child bearing years of age and are usually held between August and November to appease the spirits. The sacred Rutsanzara Forest was also used for rain making ceremonies as well as being the main burial site for the Muturikwa clan who were the village heads. The Ndizini forest is also known for traditional ceremonies and is yet another burial ground for the Muturikwa clan.
The most sacred trees are considered to be the Water Berry (Mukute), Mukwa (Mubvangazi) and the Lucky Been trees (Gombati). One can only chop these trees down if there is a particularly special reason. Many other tree species can be found on the estate, including Custard apple (Muroro), Redwood (Muonya), Chinese Lantern (Mupangara) Wild Pear (Mupundura), Marula (Mupfura), Yellow Wood (Mususu) and the elm (Mugubvura).
The estate is fortunate enough to have three rivers flowing through the lands providing vital water for irrigation. The bulk of the irrigation comes from Ratelshoek dam, fed mainly by the Chipudzana River, which supplies an area of 591 hectares. This river also irrigates the Helvetia lands. Water is pumped overnight directly from the Chipudzana River into a newly constructed 2700 cubic metre reservoir built on the highest part of the estate, at 1,000 metres above sea level. The water is then gravity fed down to irrigate tea, avocados and macadamias in the day time.
The Nyamudididza River serves the Nyamudididza Dam which supplies water for macadamias and avocados. During times of severe drought it is possible to extract water from a third river, the Budzi River, which would supply the southern region via a weir.
Taking care of the individual family needs is high on the priority list. The welfare department attend to all day to day requirements of the villages as well as entertainment. Sport is encouraged with workers playing soccer, netball, volleyball, darts and tug-o-war. Games or matches are regularly held on weekends against various other clubs in the community or sister Tanganda estates. The main event of the year being the annual Tanganda gala where the estates compete fervently for top positions.
Child care and educational needs are adequately met by the schools available on the estate. Currently there are about 260 pupils in ECD A and ECD B alone, with the primary school accommodating over 760 pupils this year. The secondary school, which takes candidates through to A Level standard, already has over 440 pupils with Form V pupils still enrolling. The secondary school includes a computer centre, metal shop, wood working shop as well as science laboratory and library.
A 32 bed clinic run by two SRNs (state registered nurse) is available for any health issues. A general store and 5 kiosks supply any domestic or grocery requirements.
The recreation hall is always a hive of activity with wedding ceremonies, church meetings, dances etc. For those quiet evenings there is a sports bar and beer hall where people can gather
to relax after a hard day’s work.
With the new crops doing well in the fields the future for Ratelshoek, and of course Tanganda as a whole, is bright indeed.