While 20-year-old Nkosinathi Makamela’s classmates from the University of Fort Hare were stressing about exams he was faced with a harsh reality that threatened his family’s livelihood.
His mother, a small-scale farmer from Idutywa in the Eastern Cape, had passed away in 2019 leaving his father to run their farm and support the family alone.
Makamela says his father, also a small-scale farmer, didn’t have the capacity to take care of all the animals and vegetables and he knew that if he didn’t assist him, the family wouldn’t survive financially.
“Even though my parents were both farming on the same land, they each had different roles to play. My mother farmed with pigs, poultry and vegetables while my father farmed with sheep, goats and cattle. Since my mother passed away my dad had to assume all of the responsibility and he was struggling,” Makamela recalls.
“I realised that the situation was bad at home and that me and my siblings wouldn’t be able to live the way we used to live, because there wouldn’t be enough money coming in.”
So, in April this year he decided to alleviate his father’s burden by helping him while continuing to pursue his animal sciences degree at the University of Fort Hare.
“I took my NSFAS allowance of R1500 and started planting vegetables. I planted spinach, cabbage, carrots, beetroot and green pepper and started selling vegetables to my community and nearby towns.”
“I don’t want to be a small-scale farmer like my parents. My dream is to become a commercial farmer.”
Makamela says he didn’t have any experience in farming, so he constantly had to do research and ask experienced farmers in his community for advice. He shares that eventually he was able to learn the trade of vegetable farming and he became quite popular in his community.
“I am already a well-known vegetable farmer in my community. Most days I am able to sell my produce within five hours. I was once even able to make R760 in five hours,” he recalls.
The young farmer is also currently farming with pigs and he plans to venture into poultry farming next year.
“I don’t want to buy feed for my pigs. That’s why I chose mixed farming. I have planted maize and I am just waiting for it to rain before I can start planting soya beans to make pig feed. I don’t plan to feed my pigs with maize and soya beans alone, though. I will also plant watermelon, pumpkin, butternut, spinach, cabbage, beetroot and carrots.”
Starting a business and farming challenges
Makamela shares that even though he loves farming, venturing into the sector was not easy for him. He’s has faced more than his share of challenges.
“My spinach was eaten by worms. I noticed this when my spinach would start breaking from the roots. Fortunately, I was able to rectify it by buying blue death. My second biggest challenge is a shortage of water because we have drought in our area. So, I can’t plant like I want to, but I am creating a borehole to supply my plants with water,” he says.
Ironically, the area also experiences flooding from time to time, which causes his soil to erode and washes away his fertiliser and seeds.
“Market access is also a challenge, because sometimes I do not sell all my vegetables.” He hopes to improve this situation by approaching local supermarkets in his community.
Makamela has his mind set on becoming a commercial producer in future, specialising in both crop and stock farming.
“I don’t want to be a small-scale farmer like my parents. My dream is to become a commercial farmer. I have always loved farming because I am even studying farming. Currently I still farm with my father on his 3.5-hectare farm called Lolo Mixed farming, but I want to starting farming on my own land.”
The supports he receives form his family and people around him is invaluable, he says, keeping him going.
“People support me because they are shocked that someone at my age is farming. Also, my dream to be a commercial farmer pushes me to work harder and not give up,” he says.