Born into a family that owned a tractor and farmed maize, tomatoes, spinach, and onions, the writing was on the wall for Kabelo Mafaralala. The 23-year-old from Sephukubje in the Mopani district of Limpopo, was going to carry the family farming baton from his parents forward.
During holidays and even after knocking off at school on most days, Mafaralala worked the land with both his mother and grandmother. Then, during the maize plantation season, the family’s tractor was hired out to till some backyard farms in the neighbourhood, approximately 99 km north-east of Polokwane. Many a times, he says, it was he who undertook this role.
It was right there and then that Mafaralala was bitten by a farming bug. “When I was still in high school my grandmother and mother ploughed maize in our backyard,” he recalls.
After the family sunk a borehole, the farmers had better access to water and were able to diversify their crops. “They then started growing vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, and onions, wherein I would assist where necessary. So, all these things, in addition to driving the tractor, made me love farming.”
When Mafaralala’s mother, Joyce, permanently relocated to Gauteng for work, he joined forces with his grandmother, Moyahabo Mafaralala, commonly known in the neighbourhood by her moniker “Mawaza”.
The two cultivated not only the one-hectare backyard plot belonging to Mafaralalala and his mother, but also that of a neighbour and two additional stands belonging to Mawaza.
In 2019 while doing the final year of his agricultural management degree at the University of Limpopo, Mawaza oversaw pretty much everything on the farm. Here, these two practised rotational farming, growing different crops on the four separate stands of one hectare each, depending on which season of the year it was.
“Since I am living in the rural area where there is not enough land to farm on, I rotate cultivars such as cabbage, onion, tomato, beetroot, and spinach on four separate stands, to improve the harvests,” explains Mafaralala.
Sadly, Mawaza passed on in August 2020, and could not see her grandchild and co-worker complete an honours degree in animal production at the same alma mater. To honour his late grandmother, Mafaralala named the family farming business “Mawaza Enterprise”.
With four stands to farm on and only two hands, colleagues Benny Maake, Moraka Maboko, and occasionally also Zuma Lenyanyabedi, hopped onto the Mawaza Enterprise train, to help carry the legacy forward.
Fears over school closure
Mafaralala will be harvesting nearly 3600 heads of cabbage from one of his stands, whereas the tomatoes and onions from the other stands are expected to be ready by month-end.
While this is undoubtedly a great feat for him, another bump has just emerged on the road. Given the fact that most of his harvests are ordered in bulk by the contractors with school supplying tenders, he reckons that it might prove difficult to clear out the harvests if schools remain closed after the 14-day hiatus which was recently announced by the President.
“I usually supply local supermarkets such as Rethabile supermarket, informal markets, and contractors who supply schools with cabbages. I have this other lady who is from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, and she orders a lot of cabbages,” the family farmer declares.
“But there is a bigger risk involved with this one of selling to school contractors. Since the schools are now closing, if Covid-19 cases keep growing and schools do not open, it means I will have to run at a loss. If ever I was supplying retailers, maybe I wouldn’t be experiencing this.”
Another challenge he faces is not having a large piece of land on which to farm. If this were to be solved, the dream to tap into even bigger markets would surely come to fruition, he believes. He has his eye firmly set on reaching this goal in the next five to six years.
Like most vegetable farmers, Mafaralala tries to control the pests from destroying his crops through the application of pesticides. In the not-too-distant future, however, he contemplates ditching this chemical method in favour of the organic method.
“But sooner I will be venturing into poultry farming so that I can take that manure and apply it on the soil. In this way, I will be improving the soil as well as reducing some of the costs,” Mafaralala says.
Kabelo Mafaralala’s tips for upcoming farmers:
- Find a market before you start growing crops.
- Practising farming with formal education on agriculture makes things a lot easier as opposed to practising without any education. There is more to farming than just waking up and going to the farm.
- Management is a crucial factor in farming. Farmers must have a consistent schedule of when to water their plants, when to apply fertilisers, and balancing the budgets.