A rapid response by Grain SA to mentor and to help new farmers across the country develop, has yielded a good crop of positive outcomes.
The commodity organisation’s farmer development programme has attracted 12 000 farmers to date, with the goal of unlocking opportunities for them and of helping them commercialise.
Some of the challenges that Grain SA hopes to solve for new farmers is a lack of knowledge, skills and experience in an industry that leaves little room for error, production credit that is notoriously difficult to obtain, adequate tractors and equipment, and constraints in securing land and land access for new farming ventures.
The development programme therefore follows a multi-faceted approach through study groups, demonstration trials, farmers’ days, a farmer of the year competition and comprehensive information sharing.
According to Grain SA the long-term initiative seeks to help beneficiary farmers become more independent beyond the assistance they receive from the organisation, and to ensure as many new farmers as possible graduate from the programme.
‘Grab development opportunities’
One of the farmers who went through the programme says the initiative opened his eyes to greater heights achievable with his agribusiness.
Thobeni Ntonga says it is important for black emerging grain farmers to grab the opportunity for the sake of exposure.
Ntonga, who has been farming commercially since 2014 in his family-operated enterprise in Kokstad, left his full-time employment as a business consultant to go into farming full time.
“There is no excuse for not being on the farm. You need to monitor your crop and livestock daily because change is immediate. Farming cannot be done from a distance,” he says.
Ntonga believes that young black people need to take much interest in farming, and he points out that it is the bedrock of food security and the country’s economy.
Another farmer, Rosina Kgopodithata from the Northern Cape, says she feels the programme should be accessible to as many rural people as possible, especially women in disadvantaged communities.
“I believe more people, especially on rural farms, need to be exposed to this type of information.
“We believe that the young generation of farmers need to be involved in this type of programme so that they could change the face of agriculture in the years to come. It is important that such opportunities reach as many farmers as possible.”
Rural farmers up next
The business development manager at Grain SA, Sandile Ngcamphalala, tells Food For Mzansi that the organisation is working around the clock to ensure that farmers become independent after concluding the programme.
“Most of the farmers are dependent on Grain SA every season. We are aiming at graduating all of these farmers we mentor and get them out of the system so that we could groom others.
“Our biggest task in this is to commercialise the farmers. If we fail to do so, we know that our work as Grain SA is not complete.”
Ngcamphalala says the programme is dependent on partnerships with other stakeholders. These include banks and agricultural cooperatives.
He also says that, once a farmer is on the programme, full participation is required in order for the farmer to learn as much as possible.
Ngcamphalala hopes that farmers in outlying areas would soon get an opportunity to participate in the programme as it was a long-term project from the outset with an aim to reach as many grain farmers as possible.
He calls on Grain SA farmer development programme graduates to assist others and to become ambassadors of change in the maize industry. This, as the sector tries to increase its footprint across the country.
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