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March 2020

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

As provincial co-ordinator at the Dundee office in Kwazulu-Natal, Graeme Engelbrecht supervises and manages the mentors and sees to all the necessary administrative tasks. With the Subsistence Farmers he is not really directly involved with mentoring, but the larger scale farmers are serviced with regular visits to support, guide and help impart knowledge. 

Two of the 2019 Farmer of the Year winners were from his area – Dumisane Hadebe who won the category Smallholder Farmer of the Year and Sabatha Mthethwa who was announced as the Potential Commercial Farmer of the Year. Although Graeme was not directly involved as mentor in their farming operations, he was ‘a brain to pick, an ear to listen and someone who could give a push in the right direction’ – which is the American politician, John Crosby’s definition of a mentor.

Graeme comes from a rural background of trading stores and farming in northern Zululand dating back to the late 1800s. After school he studied agricultural management (BAgricMgt) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg and also completed a National Diploma in Nature Conservation at the Technikon Pretoria, now the Tshwane University of Technology.

In 2012 he started working with Grain SA as a trainer. Being fluent in IsiZulu he worked wherever the language was the medium of communication in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng. He became a mentor with the ARC/Monsanto project in 2014 and was appointed as a Grain SA provincial co-ordinator in 2015 where he currently oversees the whole of KwaZulu-Natal excluding the southern area and the Zululand district.

He sees a mentor as someone who is involved and aware of the day to day challenges the farmer is facing and not someone who takes over and runs the business/farm. ‘Good practical experience is imperative, as is patience and a heart for agriculture and the people involved in it.’

To Graeme the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme is not just about advancing agriculture. It is also about uplifting people and improving the lives of those in rural communities, therefore honesty, integrity and humanity are vital. ‘A mentor needs to have the trust of the farmer both personally and as far as his knowledge and capabilities are concerned.’ He says being able to communicate in the farmer’s own language and have an understanding of his culture and outlook, are also beneficial.

Graeme has witnessed how the farmers’ appreciation for the help, guidance and assistance the mentor gives, motivates the mentors involved in the Farmer Development Programme. ‘The scepticism from all sides of the racial divide can make it difficult to convince someone to become involved in the programme as a mentor. I normally urge them to give it a try without obligation. Once the emerging farmers express their appreciation for his willingness and knowledge, the new mentors seldom look back.’

There are many challenges facing mentors like initial mistrust by the farmers, the logistics of deep rural areas which makes access difficult, farmers with poor agricultural knowledge as well as politically inspired perceptions and expectations. These however also diminish when appreciation is expressed by the farmers.

The Dundee office has 2 148 registered active farmers and Graeme encourages them to take part in the projects to get the best assistance. This year there are 659 Beyond Abundance farmers and ten AB InBev funded farmers under the guidance of the Dundee office. ‘I try to meet on a monthly to six weekly basis with the study group or individual farmers in the case of the larger farmers.’ 

Apart from the individual visits and study group meetings, specialists often accompany him to meetings/visits to give further guidance. Telephonic support is also given. The assistance is not limited to those who have entered the projects, but to all who are members and need support.’ 

In the beginning farmers lack self-confidence. Stumbling blocks limiting their success are outdated knowledge, finance, theft, cultural traditions and support. There has however been substantial progress in the area since the mentorship programme began. At a meeting or farm visit, farmers who have been getting more mentoring help impart knowledge to the newer farmers. ‘The yield potential has increased since establishing key agricultural practices like soil nutrition, technical and financial skills,’ says Graeme. 

Since being involved in the programme, Graeme has developed patient perseverance. This is something which some of the farmers have to develop too as they want to go too big too fast. It is important to guide them on how to grow their farming operation as any dream is realisable – just be patient, persevere and continue working hard. 

His dream for agriculture is that more commercial farmers will get involved in the programme and that decisions being made at government level will be for the good of agriculture and the country.

There’s a Chinese proverb that says: ‘If you want a harvest in a year, grow a crop. If you want a harvest in ten years, grow trees, but if you want a harvest that will last a lifetime, grow people.’ Perhaps that is why Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme can share so many inspirational success stories. 

Publication: March 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula