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August 2018

The Indian activist, Mahatma Gandhi, touched many lives with his philosophical thoughts, like ‘Find yourself in the service of others’. In this series of The Corner Post we feature the mentors and provincial co-ordinators who find themselves in the service of Grain SA and emerging farmers throughout South Africa.

These dedicated mentors all form part of the Grain SA mentorship programme, giving advice on how to achieve your own goals and dreams.

From manager to mentor
Shadrack Mabuza thinks highly of Grain SA. His path crossed with the organisation whilst he was the smallholder development manager at Monsanto SA. ‘The interaction I had with Grain SA while being employed by Monsanto for about ten years was at a very high level as the farmers they were servicing, were also getting farming assistance from Monsanto,’ he shares. With a similar interest in developing emerging farmers they shared the same goals and understood how to assist each other. 

He worked closely with developing and emerging farmers for several years sharing his knowledge with them before making the decision to try his hand at his passion, farming. Shadrack started as a vegetable farmer in 2016 in KwaZulu-Natal. However, it became inconvenient to operate a farm so far from his family who were located in Johannesburg. He therefore made the decision to relocate to be closer to his family and has been farming in the Ermelo district since 2016. Here he produces maize, sugar beans, dry beans and potatoes on 423 arable land. He is also the proud owner of some cattle and sheep.

Since relocating to Mpumalanga, he has become a member of Grain SA and also became involved in the Grain SA mentorship programme. He says he jumped at the change when he was offered the opportunity to assist smallholder farmers again and believes when you help others you benefit from it as well. The experience he gained at Monsanto has provided him with the necessary background to assist emerging farmers. 

Currently 180 Mpumalanga farmers form part of his four study groups. They meet every week in season and out of season once in two weeks. ‘I also visit the farmers individually as often as I can,’ he adds. As he is fluent in Isizulu and SiSwati none of the Nguni languages spoken in this area is a hindrance to him.

Knowledge is the key to good farming practices
According to Shadrack good farming practices come through knowledge. Many of the farmers do things as a routine but don’t understand fully why it is be done. Once they comprehend why practices are employed, they can learn to improve their farming skills. In the Highveld area of Mpumalanga, he found the following three issues were hampering production:

  1. Soil status: ‘The biggest problem I found was that most of the farmers did not understand the soil,’ Shadrack says. ‘Soil status, the acidity of the soil, soil texture and how to manage the variety of soils were foreign to them.’ He has tried to improve this knowledge by emphasising the fact that to achieve a higher yield, one must understand the soil in which you plant, manage the pH influences and know the amount and type of fertiliser that needs to be applied. The rule is what you put in, you get out.
  2. Using agrochemicals: During the planting season, various factors affect the germination of the crop. He found that due to inexperience many farmers do not do the basic things correctly. ‘Farmers make a lot of mistakes when planting – especially regarding the wrong application and quantity of agrochemicals. These are the things with which the Mentorship Programme assists the farmers.’ 
  3. Marketing: Currently he is working on educating the farmers about marketing at the right time. With moisture content playing such an important role, farmers need to know more about drying maize for storage purposes. ‘It is important that farmers know that maize at the correct moisture level can be kept for long periods without losing value. It can be stored until prices have improved and a greater profit can be realised.’ 

Change for the better
His time as mentor has meant his own farming skills have improved. ‘What happens on their farms, also happens on my farm. We face the same challenges, so when we discuss agricultural matters I benefit as well,’ he shares. He can impart the knowledge he has gained as a farmer with them to help them be more successful, but it works both ways as he often learns a lot from their experience and insights as well. ‘What I see on their farms, helps me to improve my own farming practices,’ he adds.

The winner of the 2017 Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial Subsistence Farmer of the Year award, Mavis Nomvula Hlatshwayo, from Hereford in Mpumalanga is mentored by Shadrack. He is very proud of her and believes that she is going to be even more successful this year. ‘Last year she achieved 8 tons per hectare and I believe this year her yield can be even higher.’ He is very proud to have another finalist in the 2018 competition and is holding thumbs that she will also win an award.

Shadrack loves mentoring the farmers and says he is sure that most of them appreciate the value he adds as a result of his own experience. ‘Those that listen to Grain SA’s advice are truly benefiting from the assistance.’

This month’s edition of The Corner Postwas written by Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. For more information, send an email to louise@infoworks.biz..

Publication: August 2018

Section: Pula/Imvula