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October 2018

The Indian activist, Mahatma Gandhi, touched many lives with his philosophical thoughts, like ‘Find yourself in the service of others’.

In this series of The Corner Post we feature the mentors and provincial co-ordinators who find themselves in the service of Grain SA and emerging farmers throughout South Africa. These dedicated mentors all form part of the Grain SA mentorship programme, giving advice on how to achieve your own goals and dreams.

From miner to mentor
Carel Foord was raised on his grandfather’s farm and gained most of his agricultural knowledge from this life mentor. After completing his school career, he reported for his military training and was then employed on the mine where he successfully completed a trade. Whilst following a successful career on the mines, he managed to purchase a small piece of land where he began his own farming enterprise – a small dairy with two cows and two calves. He later added some sheep and slowly expanded his farming operation. When the mine closed in 2006, he started his full-time farming career. 

Having an entrepreneurial mindset, he also decided to buy more land. ‘I always tried to buy farms with potential – land that no one else wanted,’ he says. Renovations were done to the buildings and fences were fixed to lure potential buyers. In this way he made money and was able to expand the dairy. 

In 2012 the government purchased the farm and dairy which at that stage was delivering 6 000 litres of milk per day. The precondition of the transaction was that all employees remained part of the dairy and that Carel would be their mentor for as long as necessary to keep the dairy functioning to its full capacity. This success story was also published in several newspapers.

Although he has now retired, Carel is still part of a consortium of farmers running a farming enterprise in the Cape Province. About two years ago he was approached by Jurie Mentz, Grain SA’s Development Co-ordinator. He was asked to become part of the Grain SA mentorship programme because of his experience in mentorship. ‘Although I may have been a milk farmer primarily, I had to plant to provide grazing for the winter months,’ he says about his knowledge in this area.

Changing minds to change methods
Carel realises that changing the methods of older farmers is more of a challenge as they cling to the established way – the way things have always been done. About 90% of the farmers in the Vryheid district who form part of Carel’s groups are over 50 years of age, with the eldest born in 1924. ‘Although old Maduma can show me a thing or two when it comes to manual labour, I know my methods will make him a better farmer – even at 94 years of age,’ he says about the oldest member of his study groups. 

Practical results are the way that new methods and practises will be accepted here. ‘Things like knowing and feeding your soil and the importance of fertiliser is foreign to most of these farmers. The younger farmers are beginning to understand why it is important to spend money to make money and are slowly coming around to an advanced way of doing things.’ 

Ophuzane in Paul Pietersburg and the seven Vryheid groups meet weekly. Instead of having everyone congregate at the local communal hall for the lecture and to get their inputs, Carel decided to divide them into smaller groups. The groups now meet at locations closer to their homes and he also gives advice during practical sessions at their various locations. 

Overcoming obstacles to succeed
When people are determined they can overcome anything. These words were spoken by our beloved former president, Nelson Mandela. This is also the reality Carel has witnessed amongst the 164 farmers in the Vryheid district whom he has been mentoring. 

Ranging in age from early 20’s up to 94, his group of determined producers have many stumbling blocks to overcome to put food on the table. They are however determined to make a success of their farming operations and to improve their yield.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks with which these farmers are confronted is combating pests and plagues. Crows destroy their crops while mice eat any maize in storage. Carel buys poison when it becomes overwhelming and spends a lot of time giving advice about these problems. 

Another shortcoming identified amongst the farmers in this district is in mechanisation. A shortage of tractors and implements makes it very difficult to implement more modern farming practices. ‘Most of the farmers still use donkeys and plant by hand and although it is wonderful to see the donkeys at work, implements are needed to lighten the work load and achieve better results,’ he adds. Some of the local commercial producers have also become involved through Carel. ‘They have really stepped up and are helping with the planting, giving guidance and sorting out problems as they arise,’ he shares about a way in which bridges are being built in this area.

With so many of the farmers showing vast improvement over the past two years, he does not want to highlight only one farmer’s story. ‘Any farmer who puts food on the table is a success story.’ One of the things he truly appreciates about his farmers is that they are arriving on time for meetings. This way they can get the most out of the allocated time. 

Carel says no one can be involved in the mentorship programme without it having an impact on your own life. In the district he is known as ‘Mashesha’, which means hurry up. ‘The mentorship programme has stripped me from impatience and perhaps my name should be tortoise now!’ he chuckles. He is also touched when he visits the farmers at home and they proudly show off their flourishing veget­able patches. ‘The mentorship programme not only teaches, it restores dignity,’ he says.

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

Publication: October 2018

Section: Pula/Imvula