A message to fellow farmers: work hard and be brave

Onthatile Nkunika has to deal with petty theft regularly, but also with impounded cattle when the thieves let them escape. But still she encourages others to take up farming - if they are willing to roll up their sleeves, and have courage

Despite facing a slew of challenges, this Northern Cape livestock farmer, Onthatile Nkunika, is determined to make it her life's success. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Despite facing a slew of challenges, this Northern Cape livestock farmer, Onthatile Nkunika, is determined to make it her life's success. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Onthatile Nkunika believes the land is available for all to work – as long as people are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard. It is what she does every day. Even as fences are stolen and petty thieves open her kraals to take what they want, she farms on, determined and passionate.

The  young woman from Jan Kempdorp in the Northern Cape urges her peers to be brave enough to venture into farming. Coming from an area predominantly known for agriculture, has empowered Nkunika to follow her childhood dream. She is now five years into her farming journey and has no plans of doing anything else.

Her inspiration came from her father. “My love for farming started at a very young age as I used to look at my dad farming. I would sometimes help him.” She took agricultural studies in school, then obtained her diploma in education, but still the farm called her back, and still her father paved the way for her.

“He used to handle everything, from vaccinating the cattle to tagging them and marking the newly born calves with a brand,” she remembers. “I started farming in 2015 and I used to farm with my dad until I took over completely in 2018.”

Nkunika now has eighteen cattle of her own. She hopes they will increase as time goes by. 

The daily duties and difficulties

Although she enjoys farming, it has not been without its challenges. She finds it especially true for her as a young woman. “I encountered criticism because I am young and I am female.”

Then there’s the hazard of municipal sewerage next to her kraal. And the challenges of theft and impoundment.

“We are encountering a serious challenge because the community members who have just decided to erect their shacks next to our kraals, are the ones who open our kraals to steal tyres, wood and other things. This leads to our livestock going in any direction they wish.

Onthatile Nkunika

To add insult to injury, a neighbouring farmer’s fence was stolen and has not been replaced yet. “In most cases [the cattle] end up going to the farm next door and they are captured by the farmer. During the last incident, I had to pay R5 000 to release my five cows that ended up on his farm.” 

Nkunika says it is an ongoing problem and becoming a burden to her as she needs to pay up each time. 

“We’re not getting any help from the municipality. Where we used to take our livestock – which is more like an old lodge where we at least knew they were safe, even if they slept overnight – the municipality took us out, citing that they wanted to renovate the area. [It] now leads to our cows going all over the place.”

But she doesn’t despair. The challenges she encounters are only making her stronger and more determined to succeed. 

‘We should change farming for the better’

Nkunika pleads with young people who want to get into farming to do it with an open mind, and a determination to go all the way. She feels that now, more than ever, women in far-flung areas need to take up spaces in agriculture, and change farming for the better. 

“I believe that to be a successful farmer, one must know a great deal about the land and challenge the common belief that a woman cannot be a farmer. 

“They should stop all the negativities and criticism and give a female a chance to make changes, because we as women are also determined and ready to work and get ourselves dirty.”

Nkunika also believes that women in disadvantaged communities need to work together to ensure that they break the glass ceiling in the male-dominated industry. She, for one, is willing to walk the talk, to learn from as many people as possible in the industry, and to share her journey and experience with other young people coming into the industry.

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