Imagine waking up one morning and being told by your father that he’s appointing you as foreman over your family’s vegetable farm. You just turned 18 and are at the tail end of puberty. And, although you enjoy helping him on the farm, it was never your intention to be a farmer.
This was the reality of 20-year-old farm owner and manager Tshepiso Lekabe. “I was basically given a man’s job, while I was still a boy,” declares the young farmer.
The village of Pella in North West is where Lekabe was born. His family is well-known in the community for their 10-hectare farming operation called the Motswere Farming Project. The project was started by Lekabe’s grandfather in 1985 and then later passed on to his father, Sam Lekabe.
Tshepiso says it was natural for him to help his father plant cabbage, onion and spinach seeds, but what angered him a little was that he did this while his peers were having fun, playing ball and chasing girls.
“In Pella there are no farmers, only us. So, my friends were not exposed to that type of environment. I was like a joke to them and I felt like one,” the young farmer explains.
It has been a little over two years since Lekabe last felt this way and says those thoughts have since gone away.
“It took me a year to like agriculture and another to fall madly in love with it. I’ve realised that without agriculture, there is no Tshepiso,” he says, referring to himself in the third person.
When asked what his career choice was, Lekabe’s answer is short and sweet. “A dentist,” he says. But don’t ask the young farmer why, because he doesn’t know. “It was just a career that I thought of,” Lekabe says.
After lekabe’s father introduced him to well-known farmers just outside of Pella, he immediately fell in love with the industry. “When I saw the farmers and how they interacted with so much love and passion when working with their crop or cattle, it inspired me. After the introductions, I immediately stopped all talks of being a dentist,” he says while laughing.
“What I love about farming is that my profession is important to the growth of South Africa and I play a crucial role in feeding Mzansi,” the young farmer says.
The Motswere Farming Project is the only one of its kind in Pella and this has contributed to their success in the past. However, they have experienced some difficulties in the recent years.
According to Lekabe, their profits are not as high as they used to be. “Last month I had to let go of a few workers. We employed 16 workers in February and right now, we only have 8,” he says.
He also recalls 2014 as being one of their worst years ever. Drought occurred in the North West during the summer seasons of 2014 and 2015. The drought brought great losses to the farm and they lost more than 10 000 cabbage seedlings.
“Equipment is another challenge. We recently planted soya beans but had to do to it with our hands. We only have one tractor, and this curbs our production rate,” Lekabe says.
There is a rising trend of young farmers entering the sector and as a young farmer himself, Lekabe believes young farmers should enjoy convenient access to funding. “The future of agriculture is in the youth and there are many successful young farmers right now like Thabo Dithakgwe, Ralph Manamela and Tshwarelo Mtimkulu, but they are not well-funded,” he says.
Dithakgwe became a farmer at the age of 13 when his father gifted him a pregnant cow. Today, this young farmer owns 790 hectares of land in Pomfret, North West.
Lekabe and Dithakgwe are close friends and often exchange farming advice. “We’ve been friends since this year and I share with him smart farming tips and how to access funding,” Dithakgwe explains
Manamela, who is studying at Potchefstroom agricultural college, runs a small cattle operation in Limpopo province with 15 cows. The young farmer is turning 19-years-old in December and says he is planning to venture into crop farming by November, this year.
Mtimkulu, another student of Potchefstroom agricultural college, started farming 2 years ago with cows his grandfather left him. Mtimkulu is 20 years of age and has over 30 cows which he farms with in the Free State.
Lekabe is also studying towards a diploma in agriculture at the Potchefstroom agricultural college. He says that although there are many black farmers in Mzansi, most of them are small scale operators. “We need more black farmers making it on to the commercial scene,” Lekabe adds.
Before Lekabe and I could conclude our insightful conversation, Lekabe tells me he has faced many challenges and he is certain that more will come. “But difficulties will never stop me from farming,” he declares.
For now, the young farmer is looking forward to completing his diploma in agriculture and plans to study a Btech in agricultural economics at The North-West University.