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June 2018

It is said that when your passion becomes your profession, it doesn’t feel like work. Luke Collier, who took over the position of Grain SA provincial co-ordinator of the Eastern Cape, when Ian Househam relocated to New Zealand, agrees that being able to live out your passion in your working environment may lower your stress levels.

Luke, a native of the northern coast of Kwa­Zulu-Natal has been in this position at the Kokstad office for about two years. He grew up on a farm where his father, a sugar cane farmer, is still farming. After completing his school career, he worked abroad for a few years and then returned to start his own business. But, with farming in his blood he eventually returned to Kokstad in 2008 to run a farm for nine years focusing on beef, sheep, maize, wheat, cabbage and potato production.

Passion becomes profession
When he was approached by Ian Househam to become involved in the Grain SA Mentorship Programme as a mentor and trainer because of his farming background, he initially found the thought a bit overwhelming, but once he discovered what this programme was about, he knew that this was the greener pastures he was looking for. ‘I initially thought it would be nice to help advance farmers, but discovered that this programme is making a fundamental difference in people’s lives. When you see the actual outcome the programme is making to help a farmer with 1 ha change his yield from 20 bags of maize a year to 120 bags, it ultimately has an impact not just on their lives, but on your own’.

To Luke the mentorship programme is about building relationships and changing people’s lives – something he has always been interested in and passionate about. ‘The only way the agricultural industry can move forward is helping to develop emerging farmers,’ he shares. ‘This is what Grain SA’s Mentorship Programme is all about he adds about the programme in which he was involved up until the end of 2017. He had the honour of working with 216 farmers in this period.

‘The great thing about the programme is that it is an extremely rewarding job as you can make a tangible difference in people’s lives,’ he says. ‘It is not just about advising someone on how to run their farm; it is an act of helping physically change people’s lives.’

He formed close relationships with the farmers and can pop in anytime for a visit over a cup of tea. To him one of the most moving examples of these kinds of bonds that were formed is when he was involved in the funeral arrangements for a farmer (born in 1922) who passed away earlier this year.

Influencing practices, changing lives
Through interaction with the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), Luke says it has become clear that the Grain SA Mentorship Programme plays a very essential role in people’s lives. The programme is providing food security in rural areas where some households have more than 20 members that have to be fed off 1 ha of maize. ‘To see the joy that the increase in yield with correct agricultural practices provides for them, really tugs at your heartstrings as you realise that you are essentially helping to feed a large family – providing food for their table, and sometimes even making a small income off it,’ he shares.

In the area where he was involved, Luke discovered the three key areas where change was required, were the following:

  • Changing old school practices. The saying goes, ‘old ways don’t open new doors’. Changing the mindset of the farmers to implement better agricultural practices, was one of the biggest challenges Luke encountered. As the farmers realised that these new methods like planting open pollinating varieties and using modern seed and chemicals – paid off, they became more committed. 
  • Advancing tillage practises in these rural areas where very little tillage is done, also needed to be transformed.
  • Getting farmers to realise the importance of the theoretical side. To Luke the theoretical side is as important as the practical side. Farmers were required to attend the study groups where chapters were studies and discussions about everything – from climate, agricultural practices and marketing – ensued. 

In Luke’s groups a different trial plot was nominated each time. With the theoretical knowledge in hand, the information was taken to the field to practice and see results first-hand of that which was conveyed and discussed in the study groups. Here the theory could be replicated in the field. Being fluent in IsiZulu and Xhosa made his task much easier as it was crucial that farmers understand why the mentor is saying the things he is saying.

America’s 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson, said: ‘We must open the doors of opportunity, but we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.’ Luke walked through the door of opportunity opened for him and held the door open to ensure that under his mentorship farmers were better equipped and food security was addressed.

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

Publication: June 2018

Section: Pula/Imvula