It may have been his curiosity and passion that attracted him to farming. But it is his hard work, dedication and innovative thinking that led 24-year-old Jose Gonsalves to win the Agri Gauteng and Santam Young Farmer of Year competition.
The vegetable, fish and layer farmer from Boksburg was named the winner of the competition at the Cullinan Diamond Lodge in Pretoria on 19 August, after outcompeting thousands of farmers from across the province.
Gonsalves’ win garnered him a cash prize of R10 000, a discount on production means from fertiliser companies and assistance with labour law contracts for his farming business.
A daunting farm visit
He shares that the competition was an extremely difficult one and that it was judged with much precision.
“Each farmer was judged on his farm, so the judges came to each farm and did a visit. They also did a Zoom meeting with all of the competitors just to find out a little bit more about their background and to shorten the farm visits because of all the Covid-19 regulations.
“They did this to experience how our work environment is at each different farm; to actually see how each farmer is making a difference; how they are innovative. Obviously, taking a picture of something or writing about it on a piece of paper is very different to actually seeing it at face value,” he says.
Learning to think beyond production
What Gonsalves found most valuable about this experience was networking and getting to know more people in the agriculture industry.
“At the end of the day, that’s the most valuable thing from this competition. You get to meet a lot of new people in industries like banks and insurance companies. You get to learn a lot of things that you don’t think about when you’re on the farm.”
“You know when you’re on the farm you’re thinking about production and not necessarily about how you can improve your insurance or give your staff better benefit packages like funeral plans and saving funds and all that. Things that you wouldn’t think of straight away – that’s what I found valuable about this experience,” he says.
Four rapid-fire questions from Food For Mzansi
FFM: Congratulations on your win! How are you feeling?
Gonsalves: Well, to be honest, I never expected it because I didn’t enter myself into the competition. Somebody external has to nominate you. For me, one of the people who nominated me was someone we had done business with in the past. So when I won, it gave me hope because it’s just nice to know that there is something out there that can motivate the youth. Sometimes, all that young people need is a little bit of motivation to keep them positive and to keep them motivated to carry on growing themselves. It’s not easy to start something of your own.
What have you done in the past couple of years to ensure that you are the great farmer that you are today?
Well, just hard work and dedication. You must also have passion for what you’re doing. At the end of the day, being passionate about something and being driven to do what you do every day is what makes you successful, I believe. So, it was just me putting my head down, working hard and trying to improve things as slowly as I could.
Some advice you would like to give aspiring young farmers or young farmers in the game who would like to reach your level one day?
I would honestly just tell them that they should never limit themselves to anything. You know a lot of people try and limit themselves or they hit the wall and they say, “You know what, I don’t have the necessary funds to continue.” And they give up. That’s a very big problem in the agricultural sector.
But if you believe that what you are doing is different, and you are really driven, you will do anything in your power to make sure that it happens.
There are also so many resourceful places you can go that will actually invest in you. You must never give up. You must always persevere and drive on – forward because you never know when an opportunity might come your way.
Why did you venture into agriculture and farming?
My father is a farmer, but I didn’t really have a keen interest in agriculture when I was younger. You know, when you’re young and you’re at school a lot of your friends’ parents drive off in nice cars. You then start asking them what their dads or mothers do. To cut a long story short, I ventured off to study actuarial science, which is a very tough degree and also a very well remunerated career.
After being exposed to the first year of studying, I passed and got a few distinctions. But I just decided that this is not for me and I went back into farming. Growing up, I only ever worked weekends and school holidays at the farm. So farming is not something I was born with or something in my veins. It was something that I learned to love.
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