Farming is the best way to fight poverty, believes a 34-year-old Limpopo farmer, Emmanuel Mudau, who transitioned from being a sales representative at a local furniture store to a multi-award-winning goat breeder and farmer.
“I am now able to put food on the table for my family,” he says, recalling how he was born into a life of poverty and raised in the village of Ha-Ravele near Makhado. “I was raised by a single father and life was difficult. I used to often go to bed with an empty stomach.”
Today Mudau is not only a self-made businessman, but also a self-taught goat breeder whose nearly 270 goats are his pride and joy. This is a far cry from his childhood days which he simply describes as “very bad”.
His late father spent much of his time drinking at shebeens although Mudau also credits him for his success. After his parents separated when he was just six, he had to share a bed with his father in their one-bedroom shack.
“Sometimes I would be with my father at the shebeen until one o’clock in the morning and I remember having to wake up early for school (after that),” he tells Food For Mzansi.
Mudau initially also had chickens on their property and used to boil freshly laid eggs when there was no other food at home. This was the only thing that he knew how to cook as a little boy. His schooling was very tumultuous too, having changed schools several times. In gr. 11 he dropped out because of continued family problems, but he still managed to finish matric in 2006.
Directly after this, he started working as a sales representative, but by the end of 2008, Mudau had enough. He quit his job and went into full-time farming. Yes, people laughed when he told him about his big dream to farm with goats, not realising that his interest in agriculture was sparked at an early age. “I’ve always had a passion for farming. I first had indigenous chickens that I grew up with.”
True to his word, a year later Mudau started farming with three goats costing R750 each. He bought them from a local farmer with the R6 000 pension earnings after he resigned as a sales representative.
Mentor relationship with sheep farmer
His company, Mutuba Farming Project, really started booming in 2015 when he started winning awards for his hard work. He now employs six full-time employees who stay on the farm’s living quarters he built. Currently, he is producing his own breed of goats called Matuba genetics, which he describes as a mix-breed of made up of Dorper, Van Rooy and Pedi goats.
Mudau sings the praises of Neels Nel, whom he affectionately calls his “boer friend” (farmer friend), who breeds with Damara sheep near Groblersdal. Whenever there was something that he was unsure of, he would call up Nel to ask for much-needed advice to keep going.
“I learned much of what I know about breeding with indigenous goats by volunteering and asking people for help. I did not know much about the goats, such as what to do during the droughts, but there were many people that helped me,” he says.
Mudau’s passion and perseveration started paying off in 2013. “I won the Young Aspirant Farmer award from the department of agriculture. I came back for the same award in 2017, again in 2018 and again in 2019. I also won an award under the Vhembe Informal Market from the department of agriculture.”
He hopes to keep the momentum going, and to come out tops in the same award in 2020. Clearly, he is driven by all these awards. “As a young, black farmer, people are recognising my dedication. If I did not work hard, I could have been out on the street.”
Mudau’s goats have a unique set of desirable traits. They are known for their high fertility rates and often give birth to twins and even triples. Also, they can easily adapt to extreme weather conditions. He also points out that indigenous goats have a higher resistance to diseases, including heartwater and worms.
“As a young, black farmer, people are recognising my dedication. If I did not work hard, I could have been out on the street.”
As with any business, Mudau has faced many challenges. He says his biggest learning-curve was a lack of knowledge. “At first I did not know how to inject the goats and sheep and they would die from disease,” he says. Again, he attributes Nel for the active role he played in equipping Mudau with the necessary skills and being a point of reference in growing his business.
A greater effort such as more financial injections into this industry can be made, Mudau believes. Assistance in owning land would be one such step. Currently, he owns 10 hectares, which is about the size of 18 rugby fields. Land, he says, allows you to grow your business and without land, you are simply unable to grow. “Land is everything. Government should make land accessible because it still remains a challenge for young, black farmers. Like I said, farming is the best way to fight poverty.”
Unfortunately, the covid-19 pandemic has impacted his business tremendously. He saw a significant drop in revenue as he no longer receives clients to buy goats and sheep for traditional events.
But that doesn’t mean he has stopped dreaming… He wants to inspire more people to value farmers. Mudau says, “No farmer. No food.” And he dreams of opening his own agricultural college to one day share his knowledge and life lessons to the next generation of indigenous goat farmers in South Africa.
Anything is possible. After all, he already offers experiential learning to graduates in agriculture. He is also the chairperson of the Limpopo Indigenous Veld Goat Club and the deputy chairperson of the Bosvelder Limpopo Club – worlds apart from his turbulent childhood days.