In a previous edition of Perspective, we shared a Pula/Imvula article, finding out more about Edwin Thulo Mahlatsi from Bothaville in the Free State. With the support of Grain SA and the help of his mentor, Christiaan Bouwer, Edwin was the winner of the 2017 Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year award. He received a brand new John Deere 5065 MFWD OOS tractor as part of his prize.
A winner’s mentor
In an interview after winning, Edwin said the following about his mentor, Christiaan: ‘I have known him since he was a little boy. I also know his father. Ours has been a long journey. He helps me a lot and does so with a kind heart.’ Edwin received his award at the Grain SA Producer of the Year function held on 13 October 2017 in Johannesburg. Mr Johan Kriel (Development Co-ordinator, Grain SA) who was the interpreter during Edwin’s acceptance speech shared the following: ‘Christiaan informed me that the work he has done with Edwin saved his life. It kept him busy and strengthened his trust in God. He added that Edwin and his family are phenomenal people’.
An American called Heidi Wills said the following about the value of making a difference: ‘We can choose to be affected by the world or we can choose to affect the world.’ By becoming a mentor Christiaan chose the latter and did not let the effects of the ongoing drought affect him negatively. He focused on helping a fellow farmer build up his farming practice.
Christiaan has been farming in the Bothaville district since 1995 and has a mixed farming enterprise comprising of cattle, maize and sunflower. In 2015 he was approached by Grain SA to join the mentorship programme. He did not hesitate and took Edwin, whose farm is less than 20 km away, under his wing. ‘I have known Edwin for years as he worked for our neighbour’s grandfather. We have a good relationship,’ he says.
Before the onset of the season, these two sit down to discuss the season ahead. ‘It’s important to know beforehand what you will require for the season, which farming operations will have to be done and to look at the cost implication.’ They both know that failing to plan, is planning to fail and agree with the statement made by American author, Robert Mckain: ‘Strategic planning will help you fully uncover your available options, set priorities for them and define the methods to achieve them’.
Christiaan tries his best to visit Edwin at least twice a week. When time does not allow for regular visits, Edwin calls frequently to keep Christiaan updated about his farming activities. ‘Edwin shares everything with me and sometimes we see each other four times a week visiting each other’s farms to discuss our shared passion.’ Whether they speak Afrikaans or Sesotho the topic is always agriculture.
Being a mentor has meant a lot to me and I wish more people would get involved in this worthy programme.’ He shares that this programme has changed his view on various issues and he realised that when you help someone else, you are actually helping yourself. According to the well-known evangelist, Joel Osteen, being successful doesn’t necessarily make you great. What makes you great is when you reach out and help somebody else become great. We trust that 2018 will see many great mentors emerge.
A mentor’s advice
To Christiaan it is wonderful to see the impact this programme has had on Edwin’s farming operation. ‘I enjoy seeing how he is prospering simply because he follows advise. Edwin does not see me as his mentor, but as his neighbour. We actually farm together as we share the same passion and work well together.’ Christiaan says they share advice with each other and sometimes have a lengthy discussion when their opinions differ.
Because Edwin is a farmer at heart, who worked on a farm from a young age he knew the basics of farming. Christiaan says Edwin also understood the financial aspect of farming from the onset of his farming operation. ‘I didn’t need to teach him anything about the financial side of farming. It is something that came naturally to him. He only needed a bit of guidance with time management.’
Christiaan taught him to:
- Begin at the right time. Whether it means planning, planting or fertilising, time is of the utmost importance.
- Take your time. Making impulsive or rushed decisions can be costly in a farming operation. Farmers must learn from nature: Nature doesn’t rush, yet accomplish everything.
- Make time count. There’s a saying, time is a coin that you can spend only once – use it, invest it and make it count. When you do something, take your time, but do it right the first time. This saves time and money.
A mentor’s dream for his mentee
The highlight for any mentor is seeing their mentee walk away as one of the finalist (or winner) on the Day of Celebration. To this team the adjudication was also a highlight as they had worked hard to get everything ready. ‘Our objective was to win the tractor and we did it!’
If Christiaan could remove a stumbling block in Edwin’s path, it would be to ensure that the land becomes his own and that he could get the title deed to prove that it is his as without it he has no security. ‘It’s not fair that he still has to pay rent on this ground in which he pours his blood, sweat and tears,’ Christiaan adds.
He hopes that Edwin will continue to grow as a farmer and develop the necessary confidence and determination to continue on his own. ‘I know that he is ready to be my neighbouring farmer and not my mentee, he just has to believe it!’
This article originally appeared in Pula/Imvula March 2018 which can be accessed here