An electrical engineer by profession, Khaya Katoo was wooed by the love of working the land and the fulfilment being in the agriculture industry brings. And when his family asked him to join the family farm, he heeded the call, but it would take a few twists and turns before they could finally relish the fruits of their labour.
“I grew up in Port Elizabeth, in town, never in my life did I work or interact in the farming business. When my family firstly called me to come and assist, I did not know about farming. However, through time I learned a lot. I was also given the opportunity to lead the family trust,” he says.
Through the restitution programme by the department of agriculture, the once dilapidated citrus farm was resuscitated to become a force to be reckoned with through job creation opportunities in Hankey, in the Eastern Cape.
Katoo used to work in the corporate world for Telkom. Now, as the spokesperson of the Threepence Farm, he says he does not regret coming to work for the family farm.
“I started to be fully involved after the handing over of the farm in 2003 and was inspired by working the land and being close to nature. I must say that being on the farm relieves stress and connects you to so many things,” he says.
A long and difficult road
Agriculture minister Thoko Didiza visited the Threepence Farm in July 2022 to hand over a cheque of R 13.9 million to be used to purchase operational machinery. Katoo represents 200 beneficiaries and says they are determined to go the extra mile in the farming industry.
Katoo told Food For Mzansi that it has been tough from where they started back in 2003, to where they are now. Following the department handing over the farm to the family in 2003, infighting started which brought productivity to a halt.
“We lodged a claim back in 1998 and in 2003 the department gave us 365 hectares of land. What really happened was that the actual land was no longer productive, so the department bought us another piece of land of the same size.
“However, family dynamics and fights led to the farm not being productive. One of our strategic partners also left due to all the infighting,” he explains.
He says at the time, the Land Bank gave them a loan of R 600 000 to buy equipment to kickstart farming activities. However, they were unable to pay back the money since the farm wasn’t operational.
Katoo left the family trust and went to pursue other things, but he was later persuaded by family members to come back.
Regrouping and rebuilding
“I formally left the farm in 2007 and then returned in 2009. After coming back, we started to regroup after realising the farm’s potential for growth and development.
“When we started rebuilding, 80% of the trees in the farm were not in a good state. We had to uproot them and work with the remaining 20%, so there was a lot of groundwork that we had to do.”
Katoo explains that the recent R13.9 million and the title deeds that were given to them by Didiza are going to go a long way to sustain the farm and create more jobs.
“We are now operating fully for the past ten years since the last grant we got from the government. We have achieved a lot, we are now working the land, and we have 14 permanent workers, and 80 seasonal employees.
“We are hoping that shortly we will be able to employ more workers as the demand increases.”
Exploring other markets
The farm, however, had other challenges they had no control over. Katoo says they export their citrus produce to Russia, Ukraine, England, Europe, and the Middle East, but with the Russia-Ukraine war, they had to look at other markets.
“The war has affected us severely because now we must push for more volumes. And the markets in other countries have shrunk because there are too many people flocking to alternative markets, which leads to a drop in income. After all, prices plummet.
“However, a low price is better than no income at all. We fight for the little bit of bread we receive.”
Creating a legacy
Aside from the family farm, Katoo co-owns another farm with eight other commercial farmers in the Eastern Cape.
“Despite ensuring that my family farm is solid and creating jobs, I also must create a legacy for my own children. I co-own 120 hectares of land where we are planting citrus also, however, 60% of the trees are still young,” he says.
“The reason for this was that I must not be fully dependent on this farm. Yes, there are dividends that my children and the entire family get at the end of the year, however, they need to have something they can inherit.”
Katoo says that since farming is a generational legacy, he is motivated to keep going on. Everyone working on the family farm wants to leave a legacy for their children.
“Ours really is to leave a solid legacy for our children. I am encouraging my children to study. My daughter, Christen, who is 18 years old, is interested in marketing and packaging.
“We are giving them opportunities. I am also inspired by seeing my 16-year-old son, Brian, who drives the tractor and wants to learn more about the farm during the holidays.”
And if Katoo gets his way, the legacy will continue long after he is gone.
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