Nonhlanhla Joye from KwaZulu-Natal is fondly known to many as Ma Joye. Her name directly translates to “fortunate one”, and it speaks louder than words to her and her family. Although the memory of when she was bedridden because of cancer still brings tears to her eyes, farming shone brightly at the end of the tunnel.
“I went into farming because I had to make money to survive,” she says.
Originally from KwaMaphumolo, Majola was raised in a family of four as the youngest daughter. It was there that her knowledge of farming started was sowed. She grew up seeing her parents go to their backyard farm daily to plant and harvest crops.
“In 2014 I was diagnosed with cancer. When you are a breadwinner and you are the only one who can bring food home, everything stops when you get sick. I found myself without food and without any meals,” she explains.
Desperate to fend for her family as she could no longer make money from her job as a psychologist at her NGO EverFelt, there was no other option but to turn to the world of farming. She managed to find a small piece of land and started off with onions, carrots, cabbage, and spinach.
A problem solver by nature
The crops grew well, and the progress was good because she used the skills her parents passed onto her when she was young. “It was not my first time farming. My parents were farmers and I learned how to farm when I was young,” she says.
However, one morning when she went to the field to water the crops, she was alerted that stray chickens in the area had eaten and damaged most of her crops. The situation was upsetting, but she quickly salvaged what she could and discovered a new farming method.
“I started a system where I grew vegetables using plastic bags and planks. Before I knew it, I had so many vegetables which were more than what I expected, so I started saving. From there I didn’t look back because I realised that there was life. I could make a living out of this.”
From her first harvest, she made a profit of R13 500 after only using R400 to buy seedlings and soil manure. “I started because I had a need to feed my family,” she says.
‘Farming is not easy’
“The journey has not been an easy one, however, it has been a fulfilling one at the same time. When farming, you deal with the climate in crop and animal production. You deal with all sorts of variables.”
Based in Empolweni, a rural area north of Durban, MaJoye owes most of her challenges to the area’s unpredictable and extreme weather conditions. In the last season, she’s encountered heavy rains, dry and hot weather conditions, and even hail, which destroyed most of her ripe crops and nets.
“If the weather is too dry, that means the livestock is not going to have enough feed and if the weather is too wet, then you have crops that are rotting because they are not supposed to be exposed to that much water,” she says.
“Either way, you are dealing with many elements, and you end up not putting grain on the ground. It is an up-and-down journey; you are dealing with nature itself.”
Nonetheless, the good memories and experiences overpowered the bad. In 2016, she completed two certificates, the first was an agribusiness certificate from the National Agricultural Marketing Council and her second certificate was a financial management certificate at Buhle Farmers Academy. But her most memorable achievement was when she won the 2017 ELLE Magazine IMPACT 2 Award Winner in Paris.
When she was invited to the Elle Magazine in Paris to take part in a mass pitch for a competition in which 11 countries participated, MaJoye tells Food For Mzansi that the mission was not to tour the city and have fun, but to pitch her story of farming to more than 2 000 people and take the prize home.
“It was actually not the award itself that made me happy, but it was who handed me the award. It was the father of social entrepreneurship Mohamed Eunice. To me, that was a memorable thing,”
‘Farming is cultivating the future’
Plans are fully in motion and the main target is empowering women and youth to fight for food security firsthand for their families. She and her team at Umgibe have ventured into partnerships where she connects female and youth farmers to local markets and offers opportunities to increase the value chain of her poultry farm.
“We are aware that in the next few years, things are going to be difficult when it comes to food security, so we are trying to equip young farmers,” MaJoye says.
“The women need to be ready for that because, at the end of the day, the future is for the youngster. But the current problems are for women because they are the only ones who know what their families will eat.
And the women who will be producing have children who they will share their skills with. This might be her mantra, but as a ‘youth farmer’ enthusiast MaJoye looks to them to secure the future of farming.
“Farming is the only thing that is not selfish. When you farm, you are cultivating your future!”
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