Many farmers may advise that attaining a market is the first and crucial step before planting their crops, but Pfananani Augustine Nemasisi believes the opposite is true.
The 30-year Limpopo-born farmer believes that if you produce quality vegetables the consumers will be drawn to you.
He came to this realisation when he planted 10 000 cabbages on his parents’ farm in Louis Trichardt in Limpopo as a first-time farmer and they were all sold out in three days.
Born and bred in Mukuru, a town close to Thohoyandou, Limpopo, his journey in agriculture was not premeditated. His parents bought a 9.8-hectare farm in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo in 2016 when he was 25 and still pushing his career as a wedding photographer.
Although he was doing photography at the time, he was a human resource management graduate from Jeppe College in Pretoria. He had not obtained a job in that field yet and that is why he decided to pursue photography as a side hustle.
His mother started farming with poultry on the farm when one day his friends advised him to take advantage of the land and pursue farming.
“They told me you have got land at home, why don’t you use it? I tried it out and it was doable. I started out by planting 10 000 cabbages in 2016 and they were all sold out in three days. That’s what set up the fire in me to go all out in farming,” he shares.
Nemasisi sold his produce to feeding schemes and street vendors. Following his big sale, he continued planting 10 000 cabbages each month, sometimes having up to 50 000 cabbages at a time in the fields. But his business really expanded when he started planting green peppers.
“My green peppers were really big and that’s one thing that grew my business, because I supplied a lot of superstores. I remember Spar came for close to five batches of green peppers.”
The secret to his big green peppers, he says, is maintenance and chicken manure.
‘I always say even if you buy the best seedlings, if you don’t maintain them it’s of no use.’
Maintaining my peppers was my greatest objective. Another thing that works for me that people don’t use is chicken manure. It makes my soil rich and creates magic for my green peppers.”
Five years later Nemasisi still uses this technique to maintain his vegetable farm, which has now expanded to also produce butternut, spinach, mustard and Florida broadleaf. It has worked well for him, allowing him to consistently find a market for his produce.
He also has a company called AVM Angela Farming that helps other farmers with crop spraying, irrigation systems and advice on how to apply manure in the soil and chemicals on crops.
Nemasisi has been featured on various television shows and radio stations in Limpopo and even won an award for his business.
“Last year I won an award for Best Cooperative Farmer in the Limpopo Regional Awards. For me that was a great achievement because I was competing with big companies across the province.”
He is also a mentor to many aspiring and emerging farmers. “They reach out to me through social media,” he shares.
Nemasisi says that social media is a really powerful tool for your business to find a market.
“Social media really worked for me because that’s where I made a name for myself. There was a time where I planted 10 000 cabbages and a guy from Botswana came to buy all of it. He found me on Twitter.”
Although he has obtained much success, he believes that farming is not for the faint-hearted
“The first question that people always ask me is how I started farming. I always reply that in order to be in farming you must have a very hard heart because in this game, yoh it’s tough. Recently we have just come from heavy rains and I have lost two hectares of spinach and three hectares of butternuts.
“Also, when the rain started there were cabbages that were being harvested and I think by then I was left with 1500 cabbages that also got damaged by the rain. Due to the rain, we couldn’t plant because the soil was wet, and I had to plant my butternut and Florida broadleaf late.”
Market ‘will find your exceptional quality’
He was not left entirely defeated, because he has learnt that in farming you must always be prepared.
“When I ventured into farming, I knew the risks. That’s what gave me the warning to invest some of the money I made because I don’t know what tomorrow holds. So, when the rain came and destroyed my crops I could bounce back quicker.
“I saw an opportunity and I didn’t wait for the soil to dry. Instead, I used a tractor and started ploughing so that when other farmers recovered, I had already harvested so that I could be the only vegetable producer in the area,” he says.
Nemasisi discloses that the toughest lessons he has learnt in farming is that one must not rely on the formal market.
“There was a time when the market was struggling. My friend had planted three hectares of butternut squash and the market couldn’t take his produce. Butternut squash is not a vegetable a lot of people know about, so he couldn’t stand in the street and sell it.
“I have also learned to produce quality because if you produce quality people will always come back. I have clients who have stuck with me since I have started farming because they know I produce quality.”