The Corner Post
In this series, The Corner Post is featuring the mentors who form part of the Grain SA mentorship programme. A mentor is that person who gives you advice on how to achieve your own goals and dreams.
If there is one thing Soois Scheepers, farmer and mentor in the Amsterdam region, is clear about, it is that the Grain SA Mentorship Programme changes lives. Soois is a teacher at heart who resigned after twelve years in the education system. He started his mixed farming operation in 1990, but when his children finished their school careers he had the desire to do something meaningful in the lives of others. In September 2016 a door opened for him to become one of the mentors of the Grain SA’s mentorship programme. To him, this was an answer to prayer. ‘This programme is awesome and it is such an honour to be able to do something significant in the community,’ he says about his involvement.
Actions speak louder than words
Soois admits that he, like so many others, became despondent about the situation in the country, but that his involvement in the programme has changed him. ‘I love working with these farmers,’ he says. ‘They are incredibly grateful for the assistance being offered, so they are really dedicated and work extremely hard.’ He enjoys sharing in their excitement when they see how their crops improve after following the programme’s advice. ‘One of the farmers said that he used to count his maize in bags and with the help of this amazing programme he now counts his maize in tons. This had me close to tears,’ Soois shares.
The Donkerhoek and Driefontein Study Groups have 124 members being mentored by Soois. In these groups, there are several older farmers – seven of the members were born in 1949 and determined to improve their lives. Although the study groups meet monthly for general training sessions and lectures, the personal visits where farming practices are demonstrated first hand are where the most impact is being made. With his motorbike on the back of his bakkie, he travels to the remote areas and then uses the motorbike to reach the farmers. ‘With an ordinary vehicle it is difficult to reach the farmers and one can only visit about six farmers per day, whereas the motorbike enables me to visit 15 to 20.’ With more regular visits, problem areas can be identified earlier. Soois admits he just enjoys seeing the progress and enthusiasm of his farmers. He even helps where he can, calibrating the sprayer and assisting with herbicide application if necessary.
This siSwati speaking farmer becomes quite emotional when sharing the hardships some of the farmers have to deal with and he is inspired by their endurance. He tells of one of the older farmers who has to walk 400 m to fetch 20 litres of water which is carried back to the field where it is mixed. He then uses a knapsack sprayer to spray his 4 hectares. ‘Another farmer sat on a rock with a dish in front of him for nearly a month cleaning his 5 tons of maize to ensure a higher grade. To see an elderly woman standing with her head lower than her knees to clean her maize, is moving,’ he says and adds, ‘I wonder if I would have carried on farming if I had to work like they do.’
Practices and problems
‘The programme provides the farmers with excellent seed and fertiliser, so it is important to convey the correct farming practices. If the Heavenly Father gives enough rain, their crops will be good,’ Soois says. To him the three key farming practices that need the most attention in his district are the importance of weed control, soil status and harvesting actions.
According to Soois farmers do not only need to know how much and when to apply fertiliser, but also why it is important to eradicate weeds and grass for a better yield. ‘It also is of no use if all the correct practices are in place, but harvesting is done incorrectly as this will have a financial impact,’ he remarks.
Soois feels that one of the major problems developing farmers have to face is the lack of mechanisation equipment. It is impossible to spray large areas with a knapsack sprayer, so he hopes to get one or two sprayers built this year to assist his farmers in the future. Unfortunately, mechanisation is impossible without funds and in his area poverty is one of the biggest stumbling blocks preventing growth. ‘We really need more equipment to help these farmers. So many of them have already paid, but as state’s driver has not pitched up, they haven’t been able to harvest yet.’ He believes a group scheme where four or five farmers club together to buy implements could be the answer.
A winning programme
One of the highlights of Soois’s time as mentor is the nomination of Solomon Dhlongolo as one of the finalists in the Subsistence Farmer of the Year category. ‘Solomon is a dedicated older farmer who is showing the younger farmers a thing or two.’
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. said, ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work, is to love what you do.’ Soois Scheepers trusts that he is doing great work, because he really loves being a mentor. To him this programme is enabling small farmers to be self-sufficient and to create jobs for others in their community – it is the total package. And even though there are challenges, it has brought a positive change in his own life.
This month’s edition of The Corner Post was written by Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication: October 2017