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Focus on the goal, not the obstacles

September 2022


Tamsanqa Raphael Masuku (74) is one of the finalists in the potential Commercial Producer of the year category of the Grain SA farmer of the year competition. After resigning as teachers in 2001, Tamsanqa and his wife, Nonhlahla (72), became full-time farmers at Kwagga’s drift farm, a farm near Newcastle in Kwazulu-Natal, which they bought. Here they have been working hard and dreaming of becoming fully-fledged commercial farmers.

Kwagga’s Drift Farm is 1 096 ha big and is in the Amajuba district, with 300 ha of arable land and 796 ha being used for grazing. This year, the husband-and-wife team planted a total of 300 ha of maize and although the excess rain was challenging, they are hopeful that they will have a good harvest. They also planted 45 ha of soybeans and previously planted dry beans, but decided that the planting conditions were not favourable this year.

The couple is blessed with four children – three sons and a daughter. One of their sons, Andile, is very interested in farming and takes leave from his job at Foresight Consulting every season to assist them on the farm with the ploughing and planting. ‘Our other children are all working and when we need anything, they help with the finances, as we didn’t get a loan,’ says the proud mother, Nonhlahla.

Tamsanqa studied at the University of Zululand, where he obtained a BA degree in 1979 and completed a B.Ed. degree in 1981, after which he began his career in education. Nonhlahla is also a qualified teacher and they started farming together while they were both still teachers.

‘We were full-time teachers and part-time farmers,’ says Nonhlahla. She adds: ‘We had cattle and a dairy and sold milk to the community.’ Tamsanqa later became a school principal, before joining kwaGqikazi College of Education in 1987. The couple had fruitful careers in education, but their goal was always to become full-time farmers.

Although they initially attempted to do everything on their own and only harvested 1 t/ha, their dedication and Grain SA’s assistance have seen their yield increase to 4 t/ha last season. ‘This may not be very high for most people, but, it is very good for the poor soils in our area,’ says Tamsanqa, and adds that this fundamental increase in their yield is thanks to Grain SA’s input. ‘We now see ourselves as serious contributors to food security in South Africa.’

Nonhlahla is especially proud of being part of the agricultural sector, which has played a vital part in the country’s growth through the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘What we are doing, is making a difference.’

The couple joined Grain SA in 2019 and have seen a vast improvement in their maize production since then, thanks to the guidance of their mentor, Chris de Jager, and the regional development coordinator, Graeme Engelbrecht. ‘Before joining Grain SA, our maize production was dwindling. Grain SA’s team made a huge difference in our operation,’ says Nonhlahla enthusiastically. ‘We had very little knowledge about soil conservation, seed selection and the use of chemicals.’

Through study group involvement and Grain SA’s mentorship, those two enthusiastic farmers soon learned about the importance of knowing your soil to ensure successful crop production. They plan on expanding their knowledge in the future by attending more courses. As they wish to leave the farm in a better condition than they found it, soil conservation practices such as weed control and fertiliser management have become increasingly important to them. They are working hard to improve their agricultural practices and their produce.

Nonhlahla describes Tamsanqa as a dedicated farmer, who perseveres no matter which stumbling blocks the road ahead may present. ‘He is a good farmer because if he wants to do something, he will do it. Although it may go slowly, he will always achieve his goal.’

Some of the challenges that are slowing down their progress and expansion are a shortage of resources, theft and problems with mechanisation. Currently they use equipment provided by the government. However, this equipment is very old and not in a good condition.

‘If the department decides to take it away, we can do nothing,’ says Tamsanqa. This is why they have invested in some second-hand implements. ‘We hope to finish paying it off after the harvest this year.’

No matter what happens, the Masukus are sticking to their goal to improve and become commercial farmers – even if it means changing their plans along the way.

They are extremely proud to have been nominated in Grain SA’s Farmer of the Year competition and beyond excited to have been chosen as finalists in the Potential Commercial Producer of the Year category. ‘We are very, very proud,’ says Tamsanqa, who is the chairperson of the Amajuba District Farmers Association. Nonhlahla adds: ‘We couldn’t believe it! There is a huge difference between what we were doing before and what we are doing now. To be recognised in the whole country is a big honour.’

Although they are already in their seventies, this ‘dream team’ still has plans to expand their farming operation, increase their maize production and get more cows in the future. They would also like to own bigger tractors and other equipment to make their production easier. The most important lessons they have learned over the years is the importance of having a goal to work towards. ‘All your efforts must go into the farm. Farming is hard work, it is not a status thing,’ says Nonhlahla.

Their wish for South African agriculture is that the government will be truly committed to assist all farmers. ‘We hope and pray that people will realise that we need to do intensive agriculture. If the government can support the farming sector, farmers can farm. They should think of the farmers first, because without farmers there will be no food and without food there will be no people.’

The Masukus encourage other farmers to be hands-on farmers. ‘Be consistent in what you do and persevere. It is all worth it in the end.’

Publication: September 2022

Section: Pula/Imvula