As a shepherd in the Lissa-Gakgare village of Limpopo more than 30 years ago, Mahlatse Manamela would look after his grandfather’s sheep and goats. He would daydream about one day owning his own farm and sending his produce all over the country.
Manamela’s grandparents were subsistence farmers who made a living from selling goats and sheep, but he wanted bigger and better things for himself. His vision was to become a commercial farmer.
“As a young boy I have always known I wanted to farm because the farming bug hit me when I was around five years old. I wanted to own my own livestock and supply to different markets across the country,” he reminisces.
In 2008, he decided to venture into cattle farming and bought cows which he housed on communal land in Lissa-Gakgare. A few years later, his grandfather gifted him with goats when he got married.
It was only around 2012 when the crop farming bug hit him, and he started planting potatoes, cabbage, spinach and mustard spinach.
Every second Monday, Manamela supplies his spinach, mustard spinach and cabbages to Spar and the Boxer store in Bochum, Limpopo. He hopes to expand his cabbage market to Gauteng because he has planted a lot of cabbage. He also ventured into cotton farming last year November, which has since become his specialty.
“How I ventured into cotton farming is that I realised that cotton grows at home. But the one that grows at home is wild cotton. So, I just went to the internet and searched ‘how does one plant cotton’. I came across the number of Cotton SA. Then I came across the number of Tertius Schoeman and I called him.
Schoeman answered the call and initiated a meeting at Cotton SA’s office in Pretoria.
“I went there and he gave me all the basics of cotton farming such as how to plant it, when to plant it, the irrigation process… He basically told me everything I needed to know about cotton farming. Then he gave me the number of Better Cotton and he said, ‘Once your cotton is ready, take it there’.”
Manamela planted his first batch of cotton on 1 November last year and towards the middle of this month Schoeman called him again. This time around he wanted to visit his farm.
“We all went to my farm. He did a site visit and checked out the soil and was impressed. As the months progressed, I just provided him with progress reports through WhatsApp photos, and he would tell me, ‘Apply this kind of medication, apply this kind of fertiliser’ to improve my cotton.”
Manamela currently supplies his cotton to the Loskop Cotton ginnery in Mpumalanga.
He describes cotton as a very simple crop to farm with. In his experience, it is even more simple than cabbage farming because cabbages have to be fertilised and sprayed with insecticides on a weekly basis.
However, his cotton farming journey is not without challenges. There is quite a distance between his farm in Limpopo and Loskop Cotton in Mpumalanga. Water scarcity is also an issue in his village.
Moving forward despite the challenges
He is also quite disappointed that his farming venture has to be slowed down by load shedding.
“Load shedding in Limpopo is very bad, you know. If there are people who bear the brunt of load shedding, it is us in the rural areas. We can spend the whole day without electricity, and it affects us so badly.
“I have a borehole where I pump water from to irrigate my crops. With load shedding it has become very difficult to do so and Limpopo is very hot. So, when you jump one day without watering your crops, the next day your plants are already starting to die.”
Manamela says to resolve this issue he has bought four JoJo tanks. Whenever he gets a chance, he makes sure that he doesn’t pump water straight to the land, but to the JoJo tanks instead. When load shedding occurs, he has enough water for his crops.
“At least in urban areas electricity can go away for two hours. In rural areas, such as Limpopo, there is no logic. The electricity just goes off. It can go off at 17:00 in the evening and come back the following day at 09:00, so those tanks are helping me.”
Despite the obstacles, his farm has grown to about four hectares since he started farming in 2008. He is not surprised by the growth because, after all, farming is in his family’s DNA.
“It is a generational thing. It’s something that my grandfather has been doing and he passed it on to my father. When my father died, I took over where he left off.”
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