Farming is not child’s play, especially in the unforgiving Karoo sun. Just ask sheep farmers Juan Louw and Demetrius Sas, who joined forces after realising that there is no such thing as a self-made man.
Together, they could achieve so much more despite their obvious differences. You see, with South Africa’s troubled past it is not always the easiest thing to form partnerships if you come from different racial and economic backgrounds. However, whilst they were both playing for Young Lions Rugby, the Carnarvon rugby club, they had ample time to suss each other out, and the rest is history.
The 29-year-old Louw says they played together for three years. “We were friends before we became (business) partners. Being white, black or coloured doesn’t bother me. It’s all about mutual respect and farming. About building a future for ourselves. To make a success of our business and our personal lives. To this day, this (deciding to work with Demetrius) is one of my proudest decisions.”
Sas (32) and Louw raise sheep on rented land. They are breaking down barriers and tell Food For Mzansi that they want to show South Africans that despite difficulties it is possible to unite and flourish. Their partnership kicked off in 2017 with Sas’ 100 and Louw’s 200 ewes. At the time both of them were struggling to make things work.
“As an up-and-coming farmer, it was very difficult for me. No one wanted to help me. My livestock was either stolen or hunted, so I lost a lot of money,” Sas recalls.
He originally started farming with just one lamb a previous employer gave him, and eventually partnered with Louw because he could no longer afford the property he was renting. Also, community members started making a habit of hunting his sheep with their dogs. The many unanswered e-mails and wasted trips to government offices in search of assistance also began weighing him down.
Louw faced similar challenges. However, he adds that the severe Karoo drought, working solo and having to repay bank loans with high interest rates also formed part of his farming woes. He used to spend his school holidays toiling the land of both his grandfathers, and learned early in his life what farmers meant when they said, “Jy moet spaar vir die droogte. (You have to save for the drought.)”
“It is tough out here,” Louw tells Food For Mzansi. “Because of the drought, there is not enough natural food, so we (also) have to feed the sheep. This is very expensive, but you can’t let your animals go hungry.”
Partnership is no fairy-tale
Sas and Louw discovered their joint power soon after their partnership was finalised. Up until today, playing open cards about everything remains one of the secrets to their success story. Sas adds, “Everything starts with trust and respect for each other. If these two aspects are strong, everything else will fall into place.”
And the dynamics of their obvious cultural and other differences?
Louw says, “Demetrius and I don’t even think of colour. We are too focused on our goal to become the biggest and best farmers in South Africa.”
They describe their partnership as an equal divide of workload and profit. Sas has knowledge of the land, sheep and other practical skills, while Louw manages the markets and finances. Currently they both receive 25% of the ewe lambs arriving
and the rest of the stock is sold to pay for rent, feed and other expenses.
Towards the end of every year, both farmers have the choice to do whatever they want to do with their ewes. Until now they have kept their ewes together to give their business a boost. Yet, despite their moments of successes, both Louw and Sas
concur that their partnership is not a fairy-tale. Every now then they differ about matters.
Sas says, “There will always will be differences, but this will teach you to look at the situation from someone else’s perspective. And you will learn from it and also learn to
consider the other’s choices and opinions.”
Many challenges remain out of their hands, including the severe, ongoing drought in the Karoo. They also haven’t had much luck in getting financial assistance to grow their business.
“I have applied for financial help from the government, but never got a reply. It is tough. Sometimes we raise all our lambs just for them to be sold so that we can pay the rent and cover other farming expenses,” Sas says.
‘Small-scale farmers could go extinct’
Also, the Karoo’s severe winters and summers are tough on their sheep. Accessing markets in the big cities are becoming increasingly expensive, because they’re so far
off the beaten track. And they have to face long distances daily to drive to their rented land.
This makes Louw believe that small-scale farmers themselves could be extinct in the nearby future. “The drought, high feeding prices, no help from government, escalating land prices and interest rates makes it difficult for a small-scale farmer to
survive. This tells us that the funds that are publicly advertised as drought-relief are not (always) used correctly and end up just disappearing. So, we can’t depend on that.”
Notwithstanding the difficulties, both farmers are extremely proud of what they have achieved. They haven’t lost hope and look forward to a brighter future in agriculture.
“We hope that our story will inspire both farmers and non-farmers to take hands and help each other to go forward in these testing times where it seems like everything is against us,” Louw says, with Sas adding, “It is in my genes to farm and I want to do it for as long as I live, while inspiring others to also join the world of agriculture.”
If only the drought can go away. If only government can see their ambition and hard work. If only someone could help them.