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December 2019

Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to louise@infoworks.biz  

Lunga Mhlonyane (30), a junior mentor based in matatiele in the northern parts of the Eastern Cape, has discovered that a mentor not only needs to have good communication skills, but must also be a good listener. 

Other qualities he believes are important for mentoring are good organisational and planning skills as well as leadership. ‘A mentor is someone who has to be able to multitask. Apart from planning and presenting study groups, you have to communicate on the farmer’s level, answering questions when asked. You also have to make sure that you don’t lose track of the time. After a day in the field, you have to put your administrative hat on to ensure that all records are kept up to date.’ 

Lunga, who has a background in horticulture, obtained his diploma in 2012 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town. In 2017 he joined the Grain SA team as an intern under the guidance of Luke Collier, Grain SA’s development co-ordinator in Kokstad. 

He graduated as a junior mentor in September 2018 and is very excited to be part of the programme. He now functions in the Alfred Nzo district where he meets up with his two study groups, consisting of 64 farmers, twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays he accompanies his supervisor, Lourie Janse van Rensburg, on his farm visits. This way he can get guidance from him and gain more information about the practices that he hasn’t yet mastered. 

The farmers in his study groups are mainly over 40 years of age. Lunga has found that many of these farmers were raised in a farming family but went looking for jobs at mines or in urban areas as they had very little or no passion for farming. At some stage they realised that agriculture is something that can change their lives and help feed their families. They then return to the farm to find that the practices which were used when they were children are no longer advisable and that they need guidance to make a success of farming. 

To Lunga, this mentoring experience has been one of personal growth. He shares that his communication skills have improved tremendously as has his knowledge of the human nature. He says he can ‘read’ his farmers and know when something is bothering them. Lunga loves being part of this programme that is bringing about change in the lives of not just the farmers but their families too.

Although he has only been involved in the programme for one full season, Lunga has discovered that a little progress each day adds up to big results. Farmers have shared their success stories of how their yield has improved from 1 t/ha to 4 t/ha and even to 5 t/ha. ‘Farmers are really taking on board what is being shared at the study group sessions. Some are excelling, like one farmer in the Black Diamond village who harvested 6 tons on a single hectare.’

The three areas where these farmers have needed the most guidance have been:

  • Financial aspects. ‘It really took time for them to realise that in farming it takes a while to make money. What you get in has to be put back into farming and not spent otherwise you will not be able to purchase the inputs you need for the following season.’
  • Marketing and also selling their maize. ‘The farmers have to start believing that they are now primary food producers.’
  • The importance of soil analysis. ‘I am trying to explain the importance and advantages of soil health by collecting soil samples. 

Unfortunately, as in so many of the rural areas one of the biggest challenges faced is that the land does not belong to the farmers. This makes it even more difficult to establish these agricultural practices. ‘The farmers put in so much effort and hard work and when the owner sees production is going well, he suddenly wants to farm and wants his land back.’ He says that this can easily discourage the farmers as no one wants to start a farming enterprise from scratch every few years.

At the onset of his involvement, Lunga discovered that attending the study groups and hearing the advice did not necessarily mean that it was being put into practice. ‘It’s perhaps a cultural thing where 
everyone follows the example of the older generation,’ he says. ‘Some of the older farmers still believed their methods worked better.’ 

Fortunately, the difference in crops between those that did what was explained – like applying urea and spraying the crops – and those who didn’t, was so clear that it served as motivation to why everyone should put it into practice. As the Canadian politician Audrey McLaughlin said: ‘When you listen, it’s amazing what you can learn. When you act on what you’ve learned, it’s amazing what you can change.’  

Publication: December 2019

Section: Pula/Imvula