Sernick’s Farmer Development Programme: A beacon of hope and progress

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

  • Sernick has hosted a farmer’s day at their headquarters in the Free State since 2016. As of 2018, the day includes a graduation ceremony for students who completed formal animal production studies.
  • According to Petro Naudé, managing director at Serdev, Sernick’s farmer development company, they have contracted the International Agricultural Academy for Africa (i3A) to run the farmer training programmes on their behalf.
  • After hosting their first farmer’s day in 2016, Nick Serfontein, chairperson of the Sernick Group, identified a need for agricultural information and support amongst upcoming farmers.
  • The Sernick Group gives out two awards every year, namely the Female Farmer of the Year and the Farmer of the Year.

Since 2016, Sernick has been hosting a farmers’ day at the end of January at their headquarters near Edenville in the Free State. For the past five years, this event has also incorporated a graduation ceremony for students who have completed their formal animal production studies up to NQF level 4. A total of 380 students have thus far achieved NQF certification, 31 of whom can boast an NQF 6 in agricultural extension.

According to Petro Naudé, managing director at Serdev, Sernick’s farmer development company, they have contracted the International Agricultural Academy for Africa (i3A) to run the farmer training programmes on their behalf.

“We have developed a training model that caters to both theoretical and practical training. But a key component is the additional extension service we offer,” Petro says. “So, after completion of their formal training, we visit the producers on their farms every three months to provide feedback and support, and to ensure they stay the course in terms of the way they manage their operations. The process assists us in compiling progress reports which we give to the sponsors of the project and the individual farmers.”

Read more about these formidable Eastern Cape farmers.

Giving hope to farmers

This initiative, according to Nick Serfontein, chairperson of the Sernick Group, started when he appointed Patrick Sekwatlakwatla in 2015 to drive Sernick’s emerging farmer empowerment initiative. This led to their first farmers’ day in 2016, attended by more than 300 people. It was evident from the start that there was an overwhelming need for information and support. This led to an initiative, supported by The Jobs Fund, to conduct farmer development in a more structured way.

“To develop cattle farmers is fairly simple,” says Nick. “You need access to land, good training and monitoring, access to financing and basic infrastructure. The impact of our efforts is astounding. We give hope, and this hope translates into tangible results. More than 600 emerging farmers have received training in our two training facilities on the farm and at Edenville. These farmers become part of our value chain. We provide them with a market and monitor them to make sure they remain on the right path. The results are self-evident.”

A tier-based approach to success

Sernick has changed the lives of many emerging farmers, Patrick points out. Testament to that is the many farmers who have completed their training through Sernick and are now fully-fledged commercial producers.

“We created a database of farmers attending our farmers’ days, and structured them into three tiers – Tier 1 being producers who farm on commonages, Tier 2 are producers who have exclusive access to land able to accommodate less than 100 large-stock units, and Tier 3 are producers who can accommodate more than 100 cattle on the land they have access to.

“We then started to capacitate Tier 3 farmers by giving them 35 cows and a bull, as well as basic infrastructure such as handling facilities and water access on their farms. For the next four years we then take 40% of the offspring of those cows as payment, which leaves farmers with 60% to grow their herds.”

Women, says Patrick, are doing much better than their male counterparts. The reason for this, he believes, is that they are much more inclined to learn new things and apply that knowledge. Men are much more inclined to stick to the old ways instead of embracing modern approaches.

“We have two awards every year, one is the Female Farmer of the Year, and the other the Farmer of the Year. For the second year running a woman, Maria Tswayi, was awarded Farmer of the Year, which indicates that women are in no way standing back for their male counterparts.”

The term ‘emerging farmer’, says Patrick, is slowly falling away as an increasing number of producers are able to farm successfully on a commercial scale. There is also a growing push-back among these producers not to be called emerging farmers anymore. “This is a good indication that our initiative is bearing fruit.”

Female farmer takes the lead

Miriam Vent, joint winner of the Female Farmer of the Year award, farms in the Reddersburg region of the Free State. She is, however, not a stranger to recognition in her endeavours as a livestock farmer. Last year she won the super ox emergent category at the national South African Meat Industry Company (SAMIC) carcass competition with a score of 84,09%.

She says the secret to her success is probably tied to the fact that she loves what she does, which means she works very hard. She describes herself as a perfectionist and says she cannot expect of somebody else to do work she herself is not capable of doing.

Miriam is not only a Bonsmara producer, but also has SA Mutton Merino sheep and pigs. She considers herself a hard-core livestock farmer.

“It all began about 21 years ago when my husband started a farming operation. I was a nurse at the time, and I also qualified as a radiographer. I saw how hard my husband was working on the farm and I decided to help him. We’ve been farming together ever since.”

Miriam says her next challenge is to become a fully-fledged commercial producer. Her intention is to be able to provide employment to many people to alleviate poverty in her area and provide a way for people to put bread on their tables. At the same time, she wants to contribute to food security in the country.

Read more about the University of the Free State’s empowerment project in the wool industry.

Farmer of the Year

Maria Tswayi from the farm Skeerpan in the Hertzogville region was crowned Sernick Farmer of the Year. This is the second year in a row that she had achieved this accolade. The secret to her success, she says, is hard work and faith.

Starting only five years ago, she now farms Bonsmara cattle, Boer goats and a few sheep. But cattle are her passion. She credits Sernick for the huge role it played in her development as a livestock producer.

A core value instilled through the training programme, Petro points out in closing, is that change for the better is deeply embedded in oneself. “Every person is the driver of his or her own life, and any change must come from your own core.

“Being the master of your own destiny implies that you must embrace all the opportunities coming your way and make something of it. Whether these opportunities come from government, Sernick or elsewhere – ultimately you have to embrace it and put in the effort yourself to transform opportunity into success.” – Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm

For more information, contact Petro Naudé on 082 559 7210 or Patrick Sekwatlakwatla on 060 965 5004.

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