A drought-stricken farmer has captured the hearts of Food For Mzansi readers after he posted a moving video in which he thanked God for much-needed rains. Siviwe Tikana, a 25-year-old dairy farmer from East London’s premier tourist route, the Wild Coast Jikeleza, says the recent rain is a saving grace for his cows.

“We had some water left in our dam, but way too little to even send the cows to that side to drink because they would get stuck in the mud,” says Tikana, general manager of the family-run Rosedene Dairy Farm. “Irrigation is our last resort, because we have to run a dam pump and electricity is extremely expensive. We were relying on the rain. Our cows lost a bit of weight (because of the drought) and milk production dropped too.”

Siviwe Tikana on Rosendene Dairy Farm near East London. #BlackBoerseun
Siviwe Tikana on Rosedene Dairy Farm near East London.

The rain was enough to replenish grazing, Tikana says.

“However, the grass is being eaten as it grows. I don’t want to sound ungrateful though as there are farmers who have had it worse than us. We still need a lot of rain because our dams are not yet full. We just don’t know when we will receive sufficient rain to replenish the dams.”

We couldn’t help but shed a tear over your little video…We haven’t had sufficient rain in many months. Feeling the rain drops on my skin, smelling it as it touched the soil, and even seeing the grass turning green as it received the rain was a feeling I couldn’t resist. I was so happy I spontaneously started singing (in Afrikaans): “My God is so groot, so sterk en so magtig. Daar’s niks wat my God nie kan doen.” (“My God is so great, so strong and powerful. There’s nothing that my God cannot do.”)

So, you’re the big boss of Rosedene Dairy Farm? I am not the boss although I sometimes act like one. We are a family-run business. My mother, Nozuko, my sisters, Unathi and Kholwa, and I share tasks. My father, Nceba, is a retired mechanic and he does all the much-needed farm maintenance. I involve myself in everything from admin to animal treatment. We also employ a dedicated animals manager, Mzoxolo Sonjica, who is the best of the best.

How did you end up farming? Even though I’m a farmer and very much involved with the day-to-day operations of the farm, I’m also studying towards my LLB degree at Unisa. It is a busy, stressful and simultaneously rewarding profession despite our political and economic climate. We farm with no financial assistance from private investors nor government. Farming has found its way into my heart. I cannot imagine life without it.

Recent rains was enough to replenish grazing on the Rosedene Dairy Farm in East London.

Do you handle the processing too? We are mainly a dairy farm with equipment to process milk into pasteurized milk and package into sachets and bottles, pasteurized amasi (“sour milk”) and yogurt. We learnt during the years that we cannot only survive on the dairy alone and have started a little chicken hatchery. We took about three hectares of grazing land to grow vegetables. We farm on 42 hectares and have 62 cows, although the farm can easily accommodate between 150 and 170 cows.

So, you’re from East London, born and bred? Yes, the farm is within the Buffalo City Metro in an area known as East Coast Resorts or Kwelera. The moderate climate and above average temperature makes this area conducive to dairy farming. I did not grow up on the farm, however. I’m from the suburbs of East London and went to Afrikaanse Hoërskool Grens from grades R to 12 with no agricultural background. I was more into justice, politics and drama. My mother grew up in agriculture and we are following her vision. There was no way we could not fall in love with agriculture.

This is your first drought. What have you learnt from it? It has taught me the real side of farming – an experience I will never forget. I just wish we had the resources to make farming a bit easier for when you experience droughts like these. You need to have a good and well-maintained pipeline with no leakages because every drop counts; even solar systems to take the load off from the inevitable Eskom bill.

The Tikana family has started a little chicken hatchery to support the dairy operation of the business.

We believe that agriculture has the power to unite a nation. Agree? I had the opportunity to receive a very good education at an Afrikaans school. Also, I had the time to understand Afrikaner culture and their way of thinking. We have a very long way to go, though, as we live in a country where the majority of farmers are still white.

They have the knowledge, but unfortunately some still refuse to share it with you, although we have seen great examples of partnerships where it worked. The transferal of knowledge, however, is not the biggest problem in agriculture at the moment for me. The market is the most difficult part.

White farmers hold the market and sometimes refuse to share it with us. We have to start very small and it is extremely difficult to enter the market. At the moment, we have the land expropriation without compensation debate. Just hearing how some white farmers feel about it definitely makes life harder for black farmers like me.

The approach I get from my colleagues is that I have no idea what I am doing and that I am a black person handed out a farm by default, and I will make it fail.

All I want is an equal playing ground. Make me feel welcome, as I will make you feel welcome on my farm.

Government does not support all of us with recapitalization or grants and I do not want hand-outs. I want to earn my money, build a legacy and set a precedent for future generations. It is, however, not all doom and gloom. There are many white farmers who are very willing to share. I have experienced that the younger generation of farmers are more open to sharing, not just the market or knowledge, but also of their resources and equipment. Like any other relationship, there has to be trust. We as farmers – black or white – must trust each other and not go back on promises when made.