Sipho Nondlebe has no doubt that teamwork and his commitment to farming is what led him to win a prestigious award at last year’s National Master Dairyman Awards. The Eastern Cape dairyman believes that learning from others, like he did, is key to break the glass ceiling in the agriculture sector.
Late last year Nondlebe won the Agricultural Research Council’s award for the national herd with the best intercalving period. Speaking to Food For Mzansi he encouraged other up-and-coming farmers to work even harder to reach their goals.
Tiisetso Manoko: Congrats on the award! The competition is an annual highlight on Mzansi’s agricultural calendar. Now that the dust has settled, what did the big win mean for you on a personal level?
Sipho Nondlebe: Winning the national award meant a lot for my team and I, and it was a great feeling to see that our work was being recognised at [a competition of] that magnitude.
You’re well-known in farming circles, but perhaps give us a brief overview of your journey in the industry. Also, are there particular challenges that you have had to overcome along the way?
I have been in the farming industry for nine years. One of the greatest challenges I encountered was being young and black and working with older people. With time, however, I have grown in the industry and gained a lot of experience which enabled me to meet the challenges that I encountered.
Dairy farming is a white-dominated industry, and you must work very hard to prove yourself [as a black farmer]. Even in our own communities they [sometimes] don’t even believe in young up-and-coming farmers with cultural beliefs. This makes it difficult when young people must manage older people.
The only way I managed to overcome these challenges was to work at the best of my ability, respect everyone in the workplace and let the results speak for me while learning from the very people I have found in the industry.
You’re truly exceptional. What would you consider as your greatest achievement to date?
Getting an opportunity to be part of a New Zealand exchange programme where I worked [abroad] for 12 months to further my experience in the dairy industry. Secondly, it will be my appointment as a senior manager of Middledrift dairy which led to great experience. I am enjoying the position so much.
Who mentored you in farming?
I regard Leonard Mavhungu of Amadlelo Agri as my mentor. He has always availed himself, and has always been transparent with information and making sure I have a clear understanding of what I needed to achieve and how to get there. He encourages me to do my best.
The other mentor is Rob Ballantyne of BRH Ballantyne, who was the person I started working for in 2013. He has always wanted nothing but success for me, availing himself for questions or any advice that would help me become a better farmer.
Any advice for new entrants in agriculture?
The only message I would like to pass to young, up-and-coming farmers is if you come to this sector with the intention of only gaining financially, you will not last.
Farming requires you to be passionate with what you are doing. It will test you emotionally and physically. There will be late nights and hard work with little time with your family, but it is very rewarding once you know why you have chosen this industry.
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