In Dennilton village, nestled in the heart of Limpopo, Nthakgwane Makuwa battles with keeping his agricultural venture profitable and making a meaningful impact on job creation in the face of poverty. Despite these challenges, Makuwa pushes forward, driven by the commitment to uphold his family’s farming legacy.
The Makuwa land is 40 hectares in size and has been there for two generations. Traditionally, only wheat, barley, and white beans were cultivated on the land. But things have since changed and the farm has diversified its portfolio, thanks to Makuwa’s vision.
Makuwa, a qualified electromechanical artisan with a diploma in plant production, took over the farm from his late father, JJ Makuwa. This was merely to help save the farm from the brink of failure due to a flawed irrigation system.
Helping dad, a major turning point
“At the time, I had my own business on the side. I was just coming around to help my father who was struggling with maintaining his irrigation system.
“I came into farming to help but I fell in love with my dad’s passion, his goals, and objectives,” he says.
In contrast to what he had planned for his life at the time, Makuwa saw that farming held greater potential for success. He was also inspired by his father’s golden heart.
“My father loved making a good impact on other people and he helped other people in need we learned this from him at a young age,” Makuwa says.
A look inside his business
The farm is strategically divided into eight different sections. Each is dedicated to cultivating a commodity that plays a crucial role in their financial success. Makuwa swears this meticulous division helps them optimise their resources and improve profits.
“Our farm is allocated into specific zones: five hectares dedicated to the cultivation of cotton, 7.5 hectares for the growth of wheat, barley, and white beans, two hectares for hubbard squash, and an additional hectare devoted to spinach cultivation,” Makuwa explains.
Then, on 6 000 square metres, a tomato patch thrives, while butternut squash is grown on another 8 000 square metres.
Spinach has been their most effective crop. As a cash crop, spinach sales have helped support the production of other delicate crops like tomatoes, Makuwa says.
Planting cotton was Makuwa’s way of navigating load-shedding challenges in 2019. “Eskom tends to switch off our electricity, especially towards harvest time, so with cotton it survives and can always bounce back,” he explains.
Currently, his markets are local feeding schemes, hawker markets and fresh produce markets in Polokwane, Limpopo.
Farming is tough
Currently, his biggest challenge is a properly running irrigation system to help irrigate other parts of the farm, which is why 19 hectares of dry land remain unused. There is also the issue of not having a working tractor and implements that can be used for tillage, he adds.
“Not having a proper working tractor to do all this work is delaying work. What takes us about two weeks to do, can be done in three days with better resources [at your disposal],” Makuwa explains.
“Using old farm machinery that breaks down have been very costly to the business. If I am repairing the pump, there is a setback on the farm, because in hot weather the crops are affected by the heat.”
For Makuwa the journey has not been easy. The last seven years have been an uphill battle. However, he believes that the challenges he has faced have helped him improve his farming methods and mature as a farmer.
“It has been a fight, but an enjoyable fight and it’s worth it. Psychologically it is taxing as well because you can plant and lose the harvest, it’s been very rough,” he says.
What inspires him to keep on pushing is the memory of his father who passed away last year and the meaning of their business slogan “Re Tsosha Moshomo wabo Tatemogolo”. Loosely translated it means “we are bringing back to life the work of our forefathers”.
“I asked my dad one day what the name of the company means. I have been inspired by it ever since.”
Life on the farm has been more meaningful than life in the city, and he relishes the open space, silence, and tranquillity of the farm. He adds that being outside, doing what he loves, has been very therapeutic for him.
“Those are some of the things that keep me going as a person. I no longer focus on the problems at hand but on the experience. What I enjoy is that I am [also] working on what I have studied for, my trade, so I can care for our irrigation system,” he says.
Intent on making a difference
Although Makuwa finds himself at the crossroads of hardship and potential, he is set on making a difference in the world.
“Dennilton village has a high rate of unemployment. There aren’t many opportunities for skills development while drug abuse and teenage pregnancies plague the youth. We would like to expand our associations with people or organisations who want to make a difference in the agri sector.”
With a mission to empower the youth and unemployed village members, Makuwa currently employs nine community members.
“During planting season, fertiliser distribution and weeding, we add casual workers to come assist us. But, under full-scale production, we have a budget and resources in place that help us employ 15 permanent workers and 200 to 300 employees for production. Our ratio is normally around 13 employees per hectare during planting season.”
And to him, by helping others, the future seems brighter.
“I see a future where we help each other as community members to alleviate food insecurity and reduce hunger,” he says.
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