Every Friday, we feature one of the rising farm stars participating in the FarmSol Youth Ambassador programme. This week, we travel to Mpumalanga to meet Nqobiziswe and Promise Ntuli, a pair of siblings with a big dream. Even in the face of setbacks, they remain devoted to growing their farming business.
For Nqobiziswe Ntuli, farming is a fascinating industry. He is enthralled by the idea that working the soil can be a means of making money.
It all started in 2014. After missing the deadline to apply for tertiary studies, he decided to take a gap year to explore his options.
“My dad, Simanga Ntuli, is involved in farming at Chrissiesmeer [in Mpumalanga] where we live, and I decided to work alongside him to experience what farming is all about,” he explains.
The time Nqobiziswe spent working with his father definitely made an impact on him. Together with his sister, Promise, he soon explored some of the many opportunities in the agricultural sector.
Young people’s seeming lack of interest in the farming industry remains a puzzle to him. So, along with his sister he hopes to be an example of what future agriculturists can achieve through farming.
“The youth of South Africa do not seem to think farming is a good occupation, but it is the sector in our economy with the most opportunities, especially for young people,” Ntuli says.
However, while there are many opportunities in farming, it takes commitment and patience in order to be successful.
The Ntuli siblings approached their father in 2018, securing a lease agreement for his 100ha Bankkop Fere farm in Mpumalanga.
A short while later, at a farmers’ training day, they met Karabo Puswe from FarmSol, and learned about their support services for new farmers. Their subsequent application to the FarmSol programme was successful, and in 2019, they were approved for a 0% interest loan to plant 50ha of non-GMO yellow maize.
A rocky start
The siblings’ first year as farmers did not go well. They struggled to secure the correct implements, causing them to plant too late. They also experienced a drought and ended up with a very small yield.
“We were very happy and excited, but then reality kicked in for us, as we had a very tough first year as commercial farmers. We were unable to settle our debt and I remember feeling terrible,” says Ntuli.
They marked their first year as a lesson learnt, however, and continued to farm.
They were able to secure another FarmSol loan in 2020, which they used to cultivate 100ha of non-GMO maize, on contract with South African Breweries. “We are very excited about our crop and hope to harvest six tonnes per hectare,” he says.
Looking to the future
Both Simanga and Promise are hands-on farmers, which is likely why they work so well together.
While he oversees the entire operation, Ntuli says his sister is able to operate a tractor as well as do administrative work. “Promise is not scared to get her hands dirty when it comes to our farming business.”
He also points out that while they sometimes have conflict about how to manage the operation, their ultimate goal is the same. This is why they are able to settle any differences that may come up.
“If we disagree about a certain crop or the way in which it should be managed, we will make a small trial and see what works best, and then we take it from there.”
One challenge they are attempting to work through to reach their shared goals is the issue of financing. To grow their business and manage it better, the siblings need finance to buy their own land as well as farming equipment.
“Without your own land, it is difficult to do long-term planning, and without your own mechanisation, it is very difficult to do farming activities at the correct time. It seems that funding institutions struggle to believe that young people can be trustworthy and reliable.”
In future, the Ntuli siblings would like to continue working with FarmSol and South African Breweries. They plan on planting 50ha of yellow maize and 50ha of soybeans, and want to obtain more land so they can expand to cattle and sheep farming.
“If we can buy land, it would be the best thing,” Ntuli says.