Firefighting farmer is building a legacy for his sons

Raymond Monyela’s farm has grown from a home garden to an enterprise that supplies fresh veg to supermarkets in Polokwane.

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What started as a small vegetable patch in Limpopo-born firefighter Raymond Monyela’s garden has boomed into a six-hectare enterprise supplying major supermarkets in Polokwane.

Spurred on by the growing need for generational wealth and attaining sustainability, the 34-year-old father of three has created a mushrooming business dubbed Monyela and Sons, to leave a legacy for his three sons, aged 10, 9 and 4.

With no formal training, Monyela sought assistance from neighbouring farmers and Google for information on planting his crops. He made it his mission to use every available resource to research and learn about crop production. It paid off. He was recognized as one of the Mail and Guardian’s top 200 young South Africans in 2019 for his efforts in food security.

Raymond Monyela in his firefighting uniform

The Mmotong native says he drew inspiration from his late mother, Lillian Monyela, who took the reigns as a sole breadwinner following the passing of his father. She sold vegetables like tomatoes, onions and others at a taxi rank in his village to feed her six children.

“Monyela and Sons started when I was very young. When my mother was working as a street hawker selling on the street, I saw that if she can provide by buying and selling then I can produce. That is where I started getting interested in crop production,” Monyela recalls

Before her death in 2018, the matriarch of the Monyela family played a significant role in her son’s interest in food security. He adds that he established the project as a foundation to also equip his own sons with the knowledge and understanding of the concept of food security and sustainability.

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“If I can teach them to use their hands, I don’t think they will go hungry, because it is what I learned from my mother. She was not always sitting around and saying ‘my husband is working a good job’. She also wanted something out of her hands. From a young age I learned as a human being you must use what you have in order to achieve.”

Raymond Monyela and his sons, Thorisho, Katlego and Atlegang

Monyela and Sons was officially founded in 2010 by Monyela and his wife Lerato. This was when their vegetable garden gained traction from neighbours in their resident village of Sengatane, 20 km outside of Polokwane.

Realising the growing demand for fresh, affordable produce in their community, the self-taught farmer expanded his 50 by 50 metre garden to a 6-hectare operation, from where he now distributes vegetables to major supermarkets in Polokwane, his home village of Mmotong and his resident village of Sengatane.

Monyela primarily caters to the needs of street hawkers who share similar struggles with his late mother, always bearing her legacy in mind. Achieving this milestone, he says, has further encouraged him to grow his business, create jobs in his community and pass down knowledge to other prospective farmers.

“We are praying to God to acquire more land. If we can have more land, we will be able to hire more people so that we can contribute to the economy. We are currently trying to train people, because if you are working with somebody for some time, that is how they are learning. So, in future maybe they might want to start their own venture.”

Monyela’s land boasts a variety of produce ranging from paprika, cabbage, tomato, hubbert squash, 500 egg-laying chickens as well as pigs. While managing a thriving business, the farmer also balances a career as a firefighter in his village. But Monyela’s true passion has always been continuing his mother’s legacy as a provider and contributor to food security.

Lerato Monyela clutches paprika leaves from the Monyela and Sons land

He believes that, with the South African economy in decline, the youth should look to alternative career choices to become sustainable in the future. “In South Africa the economy is very low and there are no jobs, so most of the young people only want to work for these big companies. They forget that God gave us all different gifts, we cannot all be under an aircon. Some have to step outside and use their hands.”

People will need to be more willing to get “down and dirty” to provide for themselves, he believes. “As it stands in our current climate there are no jobs. If you don’t use your hands, there is nothing you can put on the table.”

While the Monyela couple dream of acquiring more land, they use the communal land they purchased from the chief in the village of Sengatane. They also hope to get a farm and a tractor and eventually export their produce internationally. They want to be able to leave a legacy for his sons, Atlegang, Katlego and Thorisho.

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