Phikolomzi Qinisa Dlamini from Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal was fortunate to find his passion when he was very young. The 23-year-old farm manager made the decision to become a farmer when he was in grade 6, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Vryheid Agricultural High School came to my primary school to do a presentation about their facilities,” he remembers. “That’s when I made the decision that I’m going there. I took a risk and didn’t apply to any other high school. Luckily, I got in. That’s how the journey started.”
After high school, Dlamini continued his journey to becoming a farmer at Cedara College of Agriculture, also in KwaZulu-Natal.
It was during his time here that he first came into contact with his mentor, fellow Cedara alumnus Andile Ngcobo. Ngcobo, farm manager on Tusokuhle Farm in Pietermaritzburg, reached out to him on social media. “I will say, up until today he is still my mentor. We ended up working together.”
Ngcobo’s vegetable farming sparked Dlamini’s own interest in the trade. Dlamini had learnt other types of farming, but after watching Ngcobo, he made an effort to explore farming with veg.
The value of repetitive work
Dlamini graduated from Cedara at the end of 2019 and started working as a farm manager a few months later.
He started his current role in September 2020 when he took over as farm manager at Ndela Farming, located in Weenen.
As a farm manager, Dlamini finds that each day tends to look more or less the same.
“Every single day you have to wake up and irrigate. You have to look at your production calendar, your fertiliser program, which section [of the farm] you are fertilising, whether you are spraying here or there.”
He finds that the repetitive work is really important, taking care of the essential basics.
“I make sure workers look at the (planning) board. What needs to be done to which crop? Check the fences, are they ok? Check the bushes. We have to weed. This happens every single day. This type of farm work never finishes.”
While many of his days may be repetitive, there is no inspiration lacking in Dlamini’s approach.
He explains that he looks mostly within himself for inspiration. “I wake up, look at myself and say to myself ‘you’re doing this’.”
Farming can undoubtedly be a difficult occupation. He says that most people probably don’t know about these challenges because farmers tend to make the job look easy.
“People do not understand. There are so many difficulties in the industry. The one thing that is important about farming is making sure that we are feeding Africa, not just South Africa. People need a meal three times a day. So that means they need a farmer three times a day.
“And people never understand that concept because they seem to think we do it for fun, but it’s not about that. It’s about feeding the nation.”
Farming is pretty expensive
One of the farming challenges Dlamini lists is finances, since farming is “very expensive”.
Surprisingly, however, this is not the most difficult challenge for him to overcome.
“For me, one of the challenges in the past has been that I was employed by people who do not have an agricultural background. It means they expected things that weren’t necessarily possible.”
He further explains that making these employers understand his methods was particularly hard. Without a basic knowledge of farming, they simply did not understand.
“Sometimes I felt like I was working against myself. I knew I was doing things differently to how I should be because (the employer) needed a certain amount of money. But then I had to remind myself that the people I was working with simply did not have an agricultural background.”
Advice for future farmers
With all the difficulties that sometimes comes with farming, Dlamini sticks to the best advice he’s ever received.
“Do whatever you are able to do. Do not look at what your neighbour is doing. Always try. Take risks. Farming is all about taking risks. You have to take risks as a farmer, otherwise you are not [a farmer],” he emphasises.
Many young people have approached Dlamini looking for advice on how to get into the sector. He is quite active on social media, and often finds that people are more enamoured with his pictures than the reality of farming.
“Often people approach me, asking me to explain more about agriculture. They want me to explain it in 30 minutes, but I went to school for eight years. So, I always tell them, if you feel like you really have the passion, or if you are very interested in farming, go study it.”
Passion seems to be key for Dlamini. He does not believe that anyone can be a farmer without it. “Without passion, you cannot farm. You will quit after the very first day, because it is not easy.”
Planning for the future
Dlamini is a big advocate for further education and says that people do not need to go to university to study.
“There are so many agricultural colleges in South Africa. In each and every province there is an agricultural college and it’s not that hard to get in, unlike with universities.”
Even at such a young age, Dlamini is already planning for the future the children he may still have. “For us, especially being black and being first generation farmers, when we think farming, we think land. But land is expensive.
“What we are doing now is creating generational wealth, to give the ones that follow us. It’s fine if I only get land at the age of 50, because my children and grandchildren will have land.”