Just ask Mpumezo Ndima. He will tell you that being the manager of one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most well-known farms, Beynesfield Siyathuthuka Farms, is no small feat. It’s a demanding job that requires more than just a passion for agriculture.
To ensure maximum profitability, one needs excellent problem-solving, analytical and critical thinking skills. But more than that, you will need the ability to make decisions in stressful environments.
The most important thing about being a farm manager, Ndima says, is ensuring top quality products. On top of that, you have to ensure that the team you work with are motivated to sustain high standards.
“I’m all about quality,” Ndima tells Food For Mzansi. “When you’re constantly supplying quality produce to your markets, then you will never have people debating or fighting your prices.”
This, Ndima believes, can only be achieved when agricultural workers understand the farming operation’s business goals.
“It’s the responsibility of the farm manager to ensure that they understand why things are being done in a certain way. If you say that fertilisers must be applied at 05:00 and they only apply it at 07:00, they should understand the implications of that.
“If you ask them to plant 30cm deep, as the farm manager you must make them understand why that is crucial to the overall product.”
It takes a village…
The young farm manager’s agricultural journey started in a rural village in the Eastern Cape. As a child, Ndima was always surrounded by agricultural activities.
His grandfather, he explains, was a passionate food grower. But so was the rest of the village, Ndima points out.
“Farming, I believe, is in your blood when you grow up in the deep villages of the Eastern Cape. In my village, every household had at least two hectares of land at their disposal. So, venturing into professional farming felt familiar because I grew up in that background.”
Although, as a child, Ndima did not know that much about farming, what fascinated him the most was seeing how small seeds, after being planted, could feed an entire household and community.
“I couldn’t wait to wake up in the mornings and irrigate the seedlings. I loved watching them grow and develop into vegetables as seen in the supermarkets. It fascinated me.”
So, after high school, he enrolled as an agricultural student at the the University of Fort Hare where he studied agricultural sciences. He then also obtained a BTech degree at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town.
Upon completion of his studies, he moved back to the Eastern Cape and started farming with maize for a while. This was until he had the opportunity to move to KwaZulu-Natal in 2017.
Here, Ndima assumed responsibility for a friend’s farm who was not passionate about the sector. “This gave me a great platform. I had to figure out things my own way. I had to learn how to network and run the business. I started networking a lot with other farmers.”
A farm manager’s struggles
Then, when opportunity came knocking to manage Baynesfield Siyathuthuka Farms, Ndima grabbed it with both hands.
He’s been working there since 2018.
“I’ve learned so much about being a farm manager. Understanding responsibility, marketing, production, networking and how to market your product and transfer skills and knowledge. These were some of the crucial things I had to learn and understand.”
Communication, he points out, is also vital. At first, he really struggled with this. Managing a group of workers is far from easy, Ndima states.
“This can be a major challenge at times, but I have come to understand that sometimes it is how you communicate. Maybe the message is not being conveyed in a manner that the worker can understand.
“Sometimes when people don’t know how to do things, it is not because they are not capable, but it could be in how you were conveying your message,” says Ndima.
Sharing agricultural knowledge
Managing a commercial farm is, however, not all Ndima does. Apart from this he also provides agricultural advisory services; something which he has always been passionate about.
“My goal is to grow other farms and the industry as a whole. Developing other farms for me is better than managing one farm. I’d rather share what I know with other farmers instead of keeping the information to myself.”
In providing advisory services to farmers, Ndima has seen many pitfalls on smallholder farms and he encourages farmers never to compromise on the quality of their product and the costs that go into it.
“Never compromise on quality and costs. If your goal is already … saving money and cutting corners, you might end up having an inferior product. My advice is always that farmers don’t settle for cheap labour, seeds and fertiliser.”
Networking also plays a vital role in running a farming operation.
“There is no way that you will know everything on your own, therefore, as a farm manager, you must network. Being a farm manager is not about knowing everything but making sure that you know others who know more than you.”
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