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 a person who gives you advice on how to achieve your own goals and dreams.
‘I have always believed that although I do not have the finances to make a difference in someone’s life, I can share that which I do have, knowledge.’ Mentor Chris de Jager loves being involved in the mentorship programme. ‘I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with the farmers, and it seems that they are also satisfied with the guidance I am giving them,’ he shares enthusiastically.
Experience is the key to being a mentor
With more than 40 years’ experience in agriculture, Chris de Jager, definitely has enough agricultural knowledge to share with emerging farmers. He joined a family farming enterprise consisting of beef cattle, sheep, crops and a dairy in 1970. In 1990 the dairy was abolished and the enterprise diversified even further by adding a piggery. Because of tremendous losses due to theft, they later also decided that sheep farming was no longer a viable option. He retired from the family farming business in 2015 and joined an agricultural chemical company, Farmers Agri-Care, for two years on a part-time basis where he assisted with the calibration of agricultural implements and also handled deliveries.
Chris has been involved in assisting emerging farmers for many years and mentions that he really enjoys showing developing farmers the ropes. He was approached by Graeme Engelbrecht (Development Co-ordinator of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme in KwaZulu-Natal) early in 2016 about becoming involved in the mentorship programme and as a training officer and had the opportunity to present his first course at Diatalawa in the Harrismith area during May last year.
As mentor, Chris is involved in the Dundee area where three study groups and two REID (Rural Enterprise and Industrial Development) projects fall under his expertise. Amongst these farmers are 53 members of the Jobs Fund Project. He is also guiding another group Intamo Yenkunzi Co-op with approximately 100 members as well as a family owned operation, Milnedale (fit and proper trading) which is owned by Remember Mthethwa, who is also a farmer being mentored by Chris. This dedicated mentor tries to visit each of these groups on a weekly basis.
Three key areas to address in KwaZulu-Natal
From experience Chris knows the problems which farmers in KwaZulu-Natal face. He Focusses on these three areas for successful crop farming with his study groups:
1. Weed control: As weeds are one of the biggest problems in this area, the critical area to tackle is weed control as it is of the utmost importance to ensure a good crop. Topics like the various methods of weed control, the importance of clearing fields after the harvest to ensure a healthier crop for the next season and checking on fields regularly before the problem gets too intense, are addressed.
2. Good agricultural practices: Planting methods and better agricultural techniques like soil sampling, seed variety and no till are explained. It is important for farmers to realise that to improve the crop, the soil must be fed.
3. Fertiliser and herbicides: Thirdly, they have to learn that to ensure a healthy crop the application of fertiliser and herbicides at the right time is key. Chris believes that increased knowledge leads to increased yields. ‘Once the farmers see the difference good agricultural practices make, they are on board and eager to learn more.’ With visible results, there are currently several farmers who would like to become part of Chris’s study groups.
Highs and lows
When asked about highlights during his time as mentor, Chris says, ‘The success of one of your mentees is always rewarding, so a highlight is most definitely the nomination of Remember Wiseman Mthethwa as one of the finalists for the Farmer of the Year competition, as well as my involvement in the REID projects.’ Although the Intamo Yenkunzi group was initially challenging due to lack of co-operation, Chris endured and put in a lot of effort to win this group over. With a smile he says, ‘The other day they said if Grain SA decides I should no longer be involved in the programme, they themselves will come and fetch me to handle the planter!’
Perhaps American author, Tom Williams, best sums up Chris’s point of view, ‘You cannot change people by giving them money. Instead give them the thing that is hardest to earn: Experience. Possession does not change a person; knowledge does.’
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: August 2017