Home Changemakers Inspiration Meet the Olympian rower who, in the end, chose farming

Meet the Olympian rower who, in the end, chose farming

Paul Lombard (34) is the son of farm workers whose determination and sporting talent opened doors for him. He took those chances and rose to become the MD of a major apple and pear producer in the Eastern Cape

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Despite being a junior Olympian, there was never any doubt that Paul Lombard would, one day, end up in agriculture. After all, both his parents were farmworkers and he spent his school holidays working on a farm for some pocket money.

Today, the 34-year-old is the managing director of an Eastern Cape pome fruit grower whose produce is enjoyed globally. This is a major achievement for a man who admits that he never imagined a future in which he would call the shots.

Paul Lombard is a former junior Olympian who has found his feet in the agricultural sector. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Paul Lombard is a former junior Olympian who has found his feet in the agricultural sector. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Lombard’s employer, Eve Brand Farms, is situated in the Langkloof Valley, often described as the fruit route of Mzansi. Eve Brand Farms encompasses nearly 300 hectares of apple, pear and plum plantations.

He was born and raised on an olive farm near Paarl in the Western Cape, he says. “I basically grew up in the company of farmers and farmworkers.

As a child, over weekends I would work with my parents on the farm, and also during school holidays, just for pocket money. The day I had to make a decision about a career path, agriculture was an obvious choice. I started from the bottom.”

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Oddly enough, at one point Lombard also had ambitions of becoming a police officer or a bank manager. “I realised that agriculture is more than just spades and forks. There are many other opportunities. What I love about it, is that there is no ceiling. The possibilities are endless.”

Once he made up his mind about agriculture, his initial plan was to become a consultant, but the hands-on and physical aspects of farming captured his heart.

Embracing life-changing moments

 Besides being a rising star in agriculture, Lombard also had an impressive stint as a sportsman. After completing his primary school education, his excellent rowing skills earned him a bursary to attend Paarl Boys’ High School.

He loved canoeing. “The Berg River was too low for the local club to train, and they got permission to use our farm dam. I would watch them as they trained. One day, the coach said I could jump in a guppy canoe and try it out myself. They were impressed with my attempt.”

Paul Lombard and colleagues Eaven Prinsloo, Renthia Rietels and Rebecca Kameni. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Paul Lombard and colleagues Eaven Prinsloo, Renthia Rietels and Rebecca Kameni. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Quickly, the life of this farmworker’s son took an interesting turn. At 14, he became the youngest person ever to complete the Berg River Marathon, an annual canoeing event over a distance of some 240 kilometres.

He obtained Western Province and South African colours in canoe sprinting and competed at events in Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, obtaining various gold and silver medals.

The ultimate achievement, though, was when he took fourth place at the 2005 Junior Olympics held in Australia

While at high school, Lombard heard that Hortgro, previously known as the Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust, was offering bursaries for students doing courses in agriculture. He applied and was awarded a bursary to study further after matriculating in 2005.

After completing a plant production certificate, Lombard obtained his BSc Agric degree from the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute.

Lombard started working at TopFruit in Franschhoek as an assistant to the manager. In April 2011, he earned a new position on a farm that would eventually take him to the Langkloof Valley.

A year later, in January 2012, he moved to Eve Brand Farms.

“I’d say rowing is why I am here today. It made me want more from life and I think it encouraged determination. When it was time to practice, it was time for practice and nothing else. It’s the same with the farming sector. When a pump needs attention in the middle of the night, then you just have to get up.”

Changing lives and looking ahead

Agriculture can be very unpredictable, says Lombard.

“You never know what could happen tomorrow. You can do everything right according to

Paul Lombard (left), in his younger rowing days pictured alongside his coach and mentor. Photo: Supplied.
Paul Lombard in his younger rowing days pictured alongside his coach and mentor, Dirk Van Schalkwyk. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

the needs of your crop, then suddenly a natural disaster occurs. That is why you need passion and determination for this kind of thing.”

And although farming stole his heart, canoeing will always be part of his future. In fact, he has since established the Pink Lady canoeing club in the nearby town of Misgund. There, he encourages youngsters with his own story.

“For now, I am looking to the future; 2020 was a tough year and I pray and hope that going forward, the challenges will become more bearable. The goal is to remain profitable and grow within the industry even further,” he says.

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Duncan Masiwa
Duncan Masiwa
DUNCAN MASIWA is a budding journalist with a passion for telling great agricultural stories. He hails from Macassar, close to Somerset West in the Western Cape, where he first started writing for the Helderberg Gazette community newspaper. Besides making a name for himself as a columnist, he is also an avid poet who has shared stages with artists like Mahalia Buchanan, Charisma Hanekam, Jesse Jordan and Motlatsi Mofatse.
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