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June 2020

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

Mentorship is in essence the process of guidance and training by passing one’s knowledge and expertise on to a mentee. It has become one of the cornerstones of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme.

To Jurie Mentz, provincial co-ordinator from the Louwsburg office, the mentors who are involved in the From Subsistence to Abundance and several other projects of Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme are invaluable and often do much more than most people realise. 

Jurie has been involved in Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme as provincial co-ordinator since 2009 after land claims were lodged on two of his farms. He is currently responsible for the Mpumalanga Highveld and the north eastern parts of KwaZulu-Natal. His vast knowledge of agriculture is a direct result of growing up on a farm near Louwsburg. It is also here where he learned to speak IsiZulu fluently. His father’s farm was isolated, and his Zulu friends made sure he not only joined in the games but could also follow and later join their conversations. ‘We played together, looked after the goats and cattle, caught fish and made clay oxen.’

He went to the agricultural school in Vryheid, where he matriculated after which he joined the army for his military service. Jurie then decided to further his agricultural knowledge by completing an agricultural diploma at the Technicon of Pretoria, now called the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). He was a farm manager for eight years before buying his first farm.

The mentorship programme has had a definite impact on him as it has given him refreshed hope for this country and its people. He has realised that all farmers, no matter what their background, have the same problems and challenges. ‘There is a positivity in agriculture that should not be underestimated which will make a big difference in South Africa.’

To Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause4 in the United Kingdom, a mentor has three important roles to fulfil. That of a:

  • Consultant who shares his knowledge and expertise with the mentee.
  • Counsellor who listens and guides but does not do the work for the mentee.
  • Cheerleader who supports the mentee in difficult times and is enthusiastic about the good times and praises the progress being made.

Jurie believes that most of the Grain SA mentors seem to have mastered the three C’s. ‘It is very fulfilling to give of yourself to others. When the mentors see that by applying the knowledge and guidance they have received, a better outcome is achieved, it makes it all worthwhile. 

‘Mentors at Grain SA give a lot of themselves in time, patience, knowledge, skills and personal attention. They have to deal with sick cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys, poultry as well as vegetables with all kinds of problems. They also need knowledge of tools and tractors so that they can give guidance or help fix that which is in poor condition.’

‘The best mentors usually have a personal relationship with their farmers – they laugh together about rain and cry together about drought and losses. To see how a farmer starts to regain hope when he has been used to harvesting less than a ton and then begins to reach his full potential – whether it is 3 t/ha, or 8 t/ha is an amazing event to witness.’

To Jurie mentoring is actually about bringing about change in someone by making them think and do differently. ‘I think back to the years when we started. The term no-till was seen as something foreign and the use of herbicides was unknown. It is wonderful to see how the implementation of these concepts has restored hope. Suddenly the farmer not only has enough maize for himself and his animals but can sell a few tons for extra income. Many other positive things like an improved self-esteem and confidence have followed,’ he adds.

Approximately 1 878 farmers ranging from subsistence farmers to smallholder farmers as well as bigger farmers producing more than a 1 000 t/ha fall under the Louwsburg office. To Jurie the size of the farm makes no difference, it is all about production and reaching their full potential. As provincial co-ordinator he tries to see the farmers as often as possible – with smaller farmers being addressed at study group meetings and larger farmers being visited once a month on their farms.

The main obstacles that one encounters with farmers in this area is the fact that they cannot own the land they cultivate. A farmer can cultivate five acres very successfully and then the chief decides one day to donate the land to someone else. The fact that the farmer does not own the land also means that he cannot get financing, which in turn means that it is very difficult to expand or grow his farming operation.

Even though farmers are faced with these challenges, there have been several success stories in this area. ‘We have seen quite a few emerging farmers who started off on 1 ha to 3 ha expand after about ten years to 12 ha, 30 ha or even to 100 ha with an average yield of more than 6 t/ha.

According to Jurie, there are a few things the emerging farmer needs to do to succeed.

  • Firstly, a farmer must be equipped with knowledge and skills before he can start farming successfully otherwise it will cost you dearly.
  • Secondly, he must take soil samples and apply lime and make corrections to the soil before he can cultivate anything.
  • Thirdly, rather begin on a smaller piece of land and apply the correct agricultural practices, than on a large piece of land where you do not have the capacity to do what is right.

The American financier, Suze Orman, believes that the key to being a good mentor is to help people become more of who they already are. It seems that the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme is succeeding in doing this through its provincial co-ordinators and mentors.

Publication: June 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula