At 25, Msizi Dlomo has had his fair share of health troubles. He lost his hearing on the same day that he was diagnosed with cancer. Dlomo tells Zolani Sinxo how he found his strength in farming.
I was born and raised in Kranskop, a town on the edge of the Thukela River in KwaZulu-Natal in a place called Kwasenge. Kranskop is known for its fertile soil, beautiful sunsets and sunrises.
Kwasenge is where I started and completed primary school. Shortly after that I moved to Durban to go to Mzuvele Secondary School in KwaMashu, where I matriculated in 2014. I didn’t do any agriculture subjects as they were not available at the time. In any case, agriculture was not in my mind during those years.
After matric, I was eager to become a mechanical engineer. I was a top student in engineering graphics and design since grade 10. The plan was to take a six-month break [after high school], but the unfortunate happened. I got ill and was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, a type of blood cancer. I lost my hearing overnight on the same day of my diagnosis.
When the music stops
I used to be a big fan of music. Not being able to hear any sounds was probably the most excruciating pain I could ever imagine. While I was trying to figure out life without hearing, I was battling cancer.
However, it never bothered me. I did not know much about cancer and I didn’t concern myself with the disease as the doctors promised to do everything to help me. They also promised I’ll regain my hearing after the treatment.
I never got my hearing back. I tried a hearing aid. It never worked. Somehow, I made peace with the fact that I’m deaf for life.
I knew the sooner I made peace with it, the better. My greatest suffering, honestly, came from losing my hearing. It changed my view on everything I wanted for myself.
It is because of my hearing loss that I am a farmer today. My condition pushed me to discover talents that I didn’t know I had. Honestly, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. All I want [to do] is to farm. Nothing else.
Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be here if I was still hearing. When I accepted my loss, I established my business, Ihlongandlebe Farming. I pretty much believed that I lost my love for engineering on the same night I lost my hearing.
Learning about farming
I spent the last few years learning about farming through Farmer’s Weekly, the internet and later also Food For Mzansi.
In December 2020 I left Durban and came back home with an urge to farm. I couldn’t ignore the fire burning inside me any longer. From 2018, I did a learnership and saved up [cash] for my farming business. Back then I believed I needed millions to start.
There was one thing I wanted more than everything else: to farm Nguni goats as we’ve always had them back in KwaMashu. In January 2021, I bought my first stock using my savings.
However, I learned a valuable lesson after a few months. Without a monthly income it didn’t make sense. Goat farming is a long-term business. And then it hit me that I needed a business with a faster turnaround.
Using information on how to plant spinach that have I acquired mainly on the internet, I bought everything I needed. From seeds, seedling trays and an irrigation system. I sowed my first seed in July.
With no water access, I relied on a 5 000-litre water tank that was already leaking. I transplanted my spinach in late August and early September. Thank God it rained later that one evening. I knew my work was blessed.
In October last year, we experienced a terrible heatwave that left my spinach badly damaged, but I kept my head up.
My whole family was supportive. I grew up in a big family. I didn’t struggle growing up and I never lacked anything. I wasn’t rich, though. My father believed in putting us through school and putting food on the table. That was enough.
After losing my hearing I knew [formal] employment wasn’t going to work for me. People don’t really believe in people with disabilities. Self-employment made sense and I knew exactly what to do, and that was farming.
I currently farm with spinach and cabbages. I sold most of my goats to fund my crop production project as it made financial sense. As soon as it makes sense to buy more goats, I will do so.
In November 2021, about two-and-a-half months since I ventured into crops, I started supplying my local supermarkets, Aheers Powertrade and Aheers Supermarket in Greytown, with spinach. I have recently supplied the Freshmark distribution centre through Tshala Nathi, a youth project in iXobho.
Advice to young farmers
I’m an outdoor person and farming allows me to be that. Growing my crops from seeds to harvesting is fulfilling. I’m always motivated. I always want to do better. You can help the world more if you’re successful, and I have a huge desire to live up to my name “Msizi”. I can only do that if I have a lot to offer the world.
So, I have to do better and be better than I was yesterday and in that way, I can contribute to bringing change and thus live up to my name. My advice to other young farmers? Stop farming on Excel and get on the field. Forget about waiting on government for funding. It’s not coming and that’s a fact. No one will fund a mere dream.
Get started. The rest will fall into place along the way. Also, planning properly is very important. Losses are certain but proper planning will determine how much you lose.
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