The adage “the farmer has to be an optimist, or she wouldn’t still be a farmer” suits 24-year old vegetable farmer Delisile Mazibuko’s farming journey unambiguously.
Farming has given Mazibuko so many reasons to give up, but she refuses to succumb to defeat. Just four months ago she reaped one off her biggest harvests on her 3-hectare farm, Mjabulasi Agricultural Co-Operative, in Mananga in Mpumalanga.
She reaped the harvest but couldn’t reap the rewards.
The young farmer discloses that she had no markets to sell her produce and therefore many containers of lettuce, spinach, okra, tomatoes and beetroot went to waste.
With no other plan she had to think quickly and come up with a strategy that would minimise the devasting damage.
“I would hire people to work on my farm to remove weeds and water my crops in exchange for some of my vegetables. Some I sold to my community at cheap prices and some I gave away to homebased care centres and to people who are less fortunate than me,” she says.
After dusting herself off she tried again. Mazibuko began working the soil using her hands and garden forks to sow the seeds. She collected 20 litre buckets, filled them with water and started irrigating her crops.
“I don’t have a proper irrigation system. I have no engines and no pipes, that’s why I water my vegetables with buckets of water,” she reveals.
Fortunately for her, she did not have to do this alone. Her siblings assisted her and so did her parents, who are cotton farmers in her village.
She slowly managed to get on her feet, but admits that not attaining market access was just the tip of the iceberg.
“I faced a lot of challenges, such as wild animals and insects eating my crops because I had no proper fencing and chemicals for pesticides. It was a big loss for me even now, but I haven’t given up because I’m passionate about it,” she says.
Giving up is not an option
Mazibuko shares that her love for farming is not the only reason why she has not thrown in the towel. She reveals that she is in fact a breadwinner at home and has to support her family.
Her parents no longer work and since she has had to make a few sacrifices to ensure that her family is taken care of.
“I wanted to do nursing but after everything I’ve been through – my struggles, home situation and life itself – I decided to provide for my family and make sure my parents and siblings have everything they need.”
Mazibuko has five siblings and some are all still in school. Her life may be too hard for a typical 24-year-old, but she admits her pain made her stronger.
“When I started farming, I would wake up in the morning and come home late without eating anything. Sometimes spending time with my family wasn’t easy because I had no time to be with them,” she remembers.
“Even selling vegetables in my neighbourhood to the people I grew up with was not easy. They would laugh at me and make jokes about me, call me names, but those words kept me focused and I couldn’t turn away because of that pain,” shares an emotional Mazibuko.
The Phumula Secondary School matriculant says she decided to focus on her future and worked towards her dream of becoming a commercial farmer.
‘Sometimes darkness will consume you, but you mustn’t back off. You must pray and push until you reach your goals.’
“My future goal is to be able to grow my company and supply my vegetables to big companies. I also want to export some of my produce outside the country,” she shares.
She has big dreams considering she only started farming last year in June. She ventured into farming after completing her studies at the Ehlanzeni TVET College in Mpumalanga in 2019.
She obtained a NCV level 4 certificate in primary agriculture, majoring in plant and animal production. After failing to get a job in the agriculture industry she decided to start farming on her own.
Although she herself has a qualification she says young people shouldn’t tie their futures to education.
“Some rich folks such as (comedian) Steve Harvey flunked out of school, but they’re successful. Not all of us will be successful through education. We just need to find that one thing we’re passionate and comfortable with, then stick to it in spite of the challenges we will face along the way. Giving up isn’t an option,” she says.
Mazibuko says that her biggest breakthrough so far is being able to withstand adversity and doing a lot with the little that she has.
She shares that when she wants to give up, she prays. “I pray to the Almighty God to help me even when the situation doesn’t favour me. Sometimes darkness will consume you, but you mustn’t back off. You must pray and push until you reach your goals.”