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If we work together, we can make a difference

June 2021


Sandile Ngcamphalala (40) joined the Grain SA team on 1 march. As manager of grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme, he will provide strategic direction for the programme as a whole. This includes funding and donor liaison as well as continued development of the school and mentoring programme. He will also serve as the managing editor of Pula/Imvula magazine.

Sandile believes in building bridges. He would like to see connections created between the various industries’ players so that support for farmers can be increased. He shares his vision for the programme: ‘The more we collaborate, the more we network, the more we coordinate and bring different partners together, the more we can achieve for the farmer development programme.’

Growing up in Swaziland, with a father who worked for a sugarcane enterprise, is where his life connected with agriculture. With agronomists all around him, it was actually the only career he knew existed.

When his school career ended, he looked at careers in the agricultural sector and initially obtained a B.Tech. degree in agriculture crop production at the Tshwane University of Technology. Later he furthered his education and with several qualifications in this field, he is well equipped for the task ahead. Currently he is busy with his PhD in environmental science, with a focus on water and climate change, at the University of Cape Town.

The agricultural industry has been his working environment for the past 20 years, with the Agricultural Research Council playing a big part in his development. As a young graduate, he worked in Potchefstroom as a plant breeding technician for grain crops. Later he rejoined the company where he was the manager of advisory services before joining Grain SA.

He has been privileged to be part of some of the most innovative developments and projects in the agricultural industry. ‘Connecting with and collaborating with a great network of professionals and farmers who are really committed to finding and implementing innovative solutions, makes this journey worthwhile,’ he says.

He values the many opportunities that he has been afforded over the years to contribute to the development of sustainable livelihoods and to ensure income, food and nutrition security for several households in the country.

‘The challenges remain, but I believe that if we work together – not just within organised agriculture but also across the different sector stakeholders in the country – we have the means and capacity to achieve greater success and a bigger social impact.’

When asked what impresses him most about farmers, he says: ‘I can definitely learn adaptability from farmers. To me the most wonderful thing about farmers is their resilience and robustness. Many of our farmers are struggling. However, it is amazing to see the energy they put into surviving. They do not just pack up and leave when the going gets tough; they stay because they want to make it work.’ 

Sandile is a ‘people’s person’ who believes in building relationships. ‘Together with the individuals who are already invested in this amazing programme, I believe that we will be a team who accomplishes big things.’

Although he has a lot of knowledge and experience, he realises that he also has a lot to learn. ‘For any programme there are things that work well; those that work, but are not sustainable; and then things that do not work.

‘The challenge is to learn and improve our understanding about the performance dynamics of the programme to help identify the areas we can capitalise on, the aspects where corrective action would be justified and perhaps areas where new and greater innovation could be helpful. I am confident that my networking skills will support me in reaching these goals at Grain SA.’

He trusts that the programme’s emphasis will remain the daily support of farmers and hopes that he will be able to raise finances to ensure that many of the barriers they face, can be reduced.

‘I realise that access to secured land rights, production finance and skills remain some of the major challenges for farmers. To achieve a greater social impact, we have to ensure growth that has greater prospects for sustainable jobs and an increased income for farmers,’ he shared in an interview for the SA Graan/Grain magazine.

‘Ultimately, we have to identify the resources and establish the partnerships that could help archive a high impact and sustainable outcomes – not just at farm level, but across the nation,’ he added.

Sandile has been married to Caroline for 14 years and they have been blessed with two sons, Thorisho (7) and Ndalo (3). He is a sports enthusiast who is passionate about football and golf. During the lockdown he also took up cycling, which he can enjoy with his two sons. 

Publication: June 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula