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Stockfarm recently visited two formidable farmers in the Eastern Cape, both of whom are making their mark in South Africa’s wool industry.
At Elsieskraal near Lady Grey, we were greeted by Lawrence Maduna who farms Merino sheep and Bonsmara cattle. In the Ugie district we were met by Sipiwo (SK) Makinana on his farm Glen Cole, where he farms Dohne Merinos and Bonsmaras, and cultivates crops such as maize and vegetables.
For the love of farming
When Lawrence set out to farm at the age of 56, he knew something about cattle and sheep, but little about actual farming. He set out to learn by trial and error, first with some Dohne Merinos and mix-breed cattle.
“Neither worked well on the farm, so I switched to breeds that were suitable for our sweet and sour grassland and very cold winters,” he says. “I now farm Bonsmara cattle as it is a hardy and weighty animal with a good temperament, as well as Merino sheep which produce a good amount of wool during their lifetime.”
SK bought the farm Glen Cole in 2001 and started farming in 2004 when he was 52 years old. “I didn’t know that when you buy a farm, it doesn’t automatically make you a commercial farmer,” he says.
“I was under the illusion that the government would assist me. Even while we were in the grips of a terrible drought all over the Eastern Cape, which was declared a drought disaster area, we still did not get any help from them. But we managed to pull through, and are grateful for the good rain and being able to continue growing crops and producing livestock. What I really want to say is that, regardless of tough times, I thoroughly enjoy farming.”
On making a real difference
The National Wool Growers’ Association (NWGA) represents South Africa’s wool producers on various platforms. Lawrence learned about their wool advisors which led him to make use of their services. His involvement in the NWGA eventually culminated in him being elected as its Eastern Cape communal vice chairperson and chairperson of the Joe Gqabi district.
Apart from being a farmer, he is committed to helping communal farmers with solving problems at grassroots level, as well as the genetic improvement of rams. With the assistance of NWGA production advisors, he arranges flock competitions at regional and provincial levels, helps to tackle shearing shed and equipment issues, and deals with the management of governmental resources for distribution among black farmers. He also offers practical training on his farm to agricultural students shortly before they graduate.
To determine the needs of black farmers, Lawrence will usually arrange a meeting with an agricultural officer at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). “If the government plans on giving them some fodder or energy blocks for the winter, the agricultural officer and I will discuss the amount we will receive and how it will be divided among the farmers. The officer will then relay this to them,” he says.
“I sometimes visit the farmers to discuss the importance of farming in certain ways, and explain why it is necessary to pay the NWGA levy, which is utilised in areas where funds are needed. We still find that some farmers believe the government must fund them, but we are well beyond that stage now.”
Working towards improvement
SK was first elected as the NWGA’s communal vice chairperson at provincial level and presently serves as its national vice chairperson (communal). The down-to-earth farmer also serves as a board member at Cape Wools and Agri SA.
In his role as vice chairperson, he represents the national wool organisation, which means working towards the improvement of shearing sheds and the use of the right equipment. “It is an utter necessity for our communal farmers to earn more money and make a good living,” he says. He wishes that government will assist farmers in communal areas with the genetic improvement of their sheep.
“However, the country’s leaders don’t seem to realise that wool is a valuable international commodity. Something which I feel very strongly about is that the South African government should consider establishing an agricultural development bank or agricultural development agency with a mandate to develop upcoming farmers.”
How to start a farming enterprise
Both SK and Lawrence would like to see more young black men and women join the NWGA, where they will learn more about the wool industry, discover many opportunities, and be exposed to a vast array of expertise.
They believe the future of South Africa is pointing in the direction of agricultural land, and that its young people ought to focus on this, as it could be the one thing that lowers the high rate of unemployment, thus improving people’s livelihood.
As upliftment and employment are so important in South Africa, SK and Lawrence shared the following tips for people interested in establishing a farming business:
- Rather than trying to find just a job, look at farming enterprises which constantly needs to employ people.
- Try to overcome the mindset that you will first study and then get a job. Instead, try to start your own farming business, whether it is with livestock, fruit, vegetables or other crops.
- Get rid of the notion that you will not be able to farm on a small piece of land. You can make money on as little as 1ha of land. What is important is your mindset and believing that ‘this will be enough’ (setting your mind to making money).
- The scarcity of land is not the problem. Explore the market and look around for funds and farms which are listed for sale. Information is readily available at entities such as banks, the DALRRD and the Industrial Development Corporation.
- Wean yourself off the dependency syndrome and equip yourself to be able to show how you plan on making money. If you need to borrow funds, write a business proposal and remember that it is more than a piece of paper – it must clearly state how much money you will need, how you plan to implement your business and make money off it, and how you plan to settle your loan. – Carin Venter, Stockfarm
For more information, contact Lawrence Maduna on 082 494 8322 or email@example.com, or SK Makinana on 071 475 7214 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the National Wool Growers’ Association website at www.nwga.co.za.