The American motivational speaker and writer, Denis Waitley, said: ‘commitment is that turning point in your life when you seize the moment to alter your destiny.’ this is exactly how Siyabonga Nomlala (42) from franklin in Kwazulu-Natal changed his dream into a reality.
Although he had no background in farming, Siyabonga knew he was a farmer at heart. Once he completed his schooling, he worked for Joshua Doore and later managed the Franklin filling station. However, the desire to start farming grew stronger, so he started investigating a farming career in 2008.
After receiving funding from the local municipality, he quit his job and began erecting tunnels on land he leased from the municipality. With the mentorship of a neighbouring farmer, Richard Mingay, he planted his first seed in 2020 and realised his dream to become a crop farmer.
Although he would like to develop into a commercial farmer, he is first focussing on being a successful smallholder farmer who can support himself. ‘For now, I am happy just learning more about agriculture as I develop. One day I would love to be a commercial farmer, but the bigger your operation is, the higher your costs are and the more money you must spend. I would rather have a 100% success rate on my 50 ha, than have 50% success on 1 000 ha!’
In 2020 his path crossed with two members of Grain SA’s Farmer Development team, when Richard arranged a meeting. They were impressed by Siyabonga’s dedication and hunger for knowledge. Although it was not possible to accommodate him in one of the programmes yet, they were able to arrange funding for him.
After a successful first maize season, where he realised a yield of 9 t/ha on 30 hectares, Siyabonga is eager to improve even more has planted a 10-hectare soybean trial this season.
HOW DID YOUR PATH CROSS WITH GRAIN SA?
Uncle Richard, who was my mentor, introduced me to Grain SA. He told Luke Collier (regional development manager in the Kokstad region) and Eric Wiggle (one of Grain SA’s mentors) that I had potential and asked them to meet with me.
WHAT ROLE HAVE THEY PLAYED IN YOUR FARMING SUCCESS?
They made a huge difference in my life. Through Grain SA I learned about soil analysis. Although my soil was fertile, I had no knowledge of soil health, which can help produce a healthier crop. I also learned about the importance of crop insurance. You cannot plant if you do not have insurance. I was hit by hail and was then extremely glad to have insurance.
WHAT DO YOU GROW IN THE TUNNELS?
I have eight tunnels where I grow tomatoes, red and green peppers and spinach. I used to water by hand, but now there is a borehole. The first seedlings I planted were not good quality, so I visited a nursery to inquire about high-quality seed. This taught me a valuable lesson – to get advice and information from experts before I make another mistake.
DO YOU OWN ANY EQUIPMENT?
Yes, I am the proud owner of a small tractor and some basic implements.
SIYABONGA’S THREE TOP TIPS
- Begin small – focus on what you have, not what you want.
- Ask for advice and always put in 100% effort.
- Do the right thing at the right time – do it right or not at all.
Farm: Municipal land
Nearest town: Franklin (in the greater Kokstad local municipality)
Size: 100 ha
Type of farming operation: Crops – plants maize and soybeans, potatoes and cabbage, which he sells to the local market, and other vegetables in tunnels.
GRAIN SA’S CONTRIBUTION
• Joined Grain SA in the 2021/2022 season
• Ongeluksnek Study Group
Training courses completed:
He has not been able to attend a course yet but is planning to do so soon.
A mentor’s view:
Luke Collier, regional development manager at the Kokstad office, says Siyabonga is committed to his farming operation. Even though it is a small operation, he is still determined to make a success of it. Because he is meticulous in what he does, he achieved a good yield. He is eager to learn and a hard worker who doesn’t focus on challenges.
Publication: August 2023