It’s true that you can’t choose your family, but these three Mzansi farmers beg to differ. Brothers Buchule Jack and Buzwe Pama run a successful farming business in the Free State alongside their friend Pieter Van Heerden and are proving that forming mutually beneficial partnerships can yield success.
“It’s a family business between the Pamas and the Van Heerdens,” says Van Heerden. The Pama brothers partnered with van Heerden after a game hunting trip led to friendship and ultimately a brotherhood.
He says the three always shared a vision for creating their enterprise, Amiline. It all became a reality when Van Heerden was approached by the Pama brothers who wanted to go back to their farming roots.
“Even if it is two separate families, we are brothers. This serves as a model especially for Afrikaans guys in the Free State that when we come together, we can make great ventures,” Van Heerden explains.
He adds that the Pamas brought plenty of insight to the table regarding the marketing of their agricultural produce. “It is two business guys and a seasoned farmer coming together and making a decision to share their different skillsets, combining in a shared vision,” he says.
Their enterprise sits on a 482-hectare farm near Bothaville in the Free State, and was founded in 2017. Today the Pamas and Van Heerdens supply potato cultivars to McCain South Africa and sell maize and wheat to one of Mzansi’s leading agricultural companies, BKB.
The Pama brothers were born into a generation of black Eastern Cape farmers and jumped at the opportunity to partner with Van Heerden and buy the farm. “It was a no–brainer, because this is something that I grew up doing practically my whole life,” says Buchule Jack.
He attributes his love for farming to his father, Dr Bonile Jack Pama. Pama senior is a seasoned farmer who has gained several postgraduate qualifications in the agricultural sphere. He owned two farms in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape and would take his children on spur of the moment trips to visit his land.
“Ever since I was a young boy, farming has been in my blood. My father has been farming his whole life. Growing up he would take us to Fort Beaufort every week to go visit the farms. He was an apple, pear and livestock farmer,” Jack recalls.
It came as no surprise that Buchule, along with his brother Buzwe, would follow in their father’s footsteps. After matriculating at the Selbourne College in East London in 2001, Buchule Jack went on to pursue his tertiary education at the University of the Witwatersand (WITS). After completing his qualification in Economics and Financial Accounting , he started his career in the financial sector in 2007 with the Rand Merchant Bank.
He later joined his family in sustaining their legacy – Pama Investment Holdings, where he currently serves as the Chief Operations Officer.
“Trying to go at it alone is extremely difficult, but creating partnerships is the way to go.”
He believes aligning yourself with the right connections yields great success in the agricultural industry. “Trying to go at it alone is extremely difficult, but creating partnerships is the way to go. We were fortunate enough to be in partnership with white commercial farmers that have been in farming for decades. They came with expertise and relationships, so access to the market was not really that much of problem for us,” says Jack.
The farm currently employs 15 permanent agricultural workers and 100 seasonal workers during harvest periods. “We’ve done quite a lot with our limited resources.” Jack adds that potato farming is a labour-intensive task and believes agricultural workers are the true backbone of a farming enterprise.
“In farming you depend a lot on the workers in the area and I think it’s important to take care of them because they work hard to take care of your farming operations.”
The farmers hope they can provide more job opportunities in the Bothaville community.
“We are currently on stage two of four. Once we are on stage four and we have planted all the pecan nuts and crops, then we should be looking at hiring about 60 to 70 more workers.”
Their business success did not happen overnight. Like many farmers, Jack believes government needs to update their bureaucracy in terms of access to resources.
“The land and the leasing – that’s not really much of a problem. But the government procedures, the bureaucracy and the red tape that are not aligned are problematic and costly. The Land Bank does not work with the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Water and Sanitation, and this causes unnecessary delays,” he explains.
Jack advises youth looking to enter the agri industry to pen their aspirations on paper and go for it. “It is important to document where you want to be. All of us need a five-year plan of where we want to be,” he says.
“There will definitely be a lot of downs that will make you want to quit or give up, but that doesn’t help. What you need to do is focus on your goal, focus on your dreams, put them on paper so that they are tangible and work hard every single day to achieve them.”
“I know where I want to be in the next five years. I want to be an agricultural entrepreneur that owns multiple farming operations that will assist others to succeed,” Jack says.