51-year-old farmer Aldrin Lawrence farms in the Mara area of the Vhembe district of Limpopo, near a little farming town called Buysdorp. The town was named for his ancestor, French Huguenot Coenraad De Buys.
Lawrence is featured tonight in the final episode of For the love of the land, a brand-new farmers’ show on DSTV and Openview.
With economic hardship, political turbulence and the worst recorded drought in the last 100 years, farming hasn’t been an easy business to be in, but Lawrence keeps going strong.
His inspiring story will be broadcast at 18:00 and 21:00 tonight and 10:00 tomorrow morning on For the love of the land. Be sure to tune in on People’s Weather (PPL WX) on DStv channel 180 and Openview channel 115. If you’ve missed an episode or want to see it again, tune in to the omnibuses to catch up on Sunday.
In anticipation of the show, produced by Food For Mzansi in partnership with the VKB Group, Lawrence chats to Gugulethu Mahlangu, a Gauteng-based farmer and participant of Food For Mzansi’s Sinelizwi citizen journalism programme.
Gugulethu Mahlangu: Aldrin, you have the privilege of having two mentors sharing ideas with you. What would you say are the good qualities to look for when seeking out mentors?
Aldrin Lawrence: Look for established farmers, someone that has been in the industry for a long time like a generational farmer. It’s very important to get a successful farmer who is familiar with the area that you want to farm in. Get someone who knows the farming conditions because that person is the one who knows what to plant and when to plant. Another good quality is to look for an honest, God-fearing person, someone who wants to see you succeed by sharing all the knowledge without fail.
Securing markets is something you have clearly mastered from selling your produce as far as Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Free State. Please explain what the process is to start selling your produce at city or town markets?
It’s quite easy if you want to supply the open markets. All you must do is get in contact with the market agents. If you have a mentor to assist you they can give you contacts. Phone different market agents to tell them what you are producing so that they can give you the prices on the markets, more or less. The other thing is that you must have is a registration number at the market and then you ensure that you have reliable transport that can take your produce to the various markets you secure. Just make sure you build up good relationships with market agents.
Some farmers are from rural communities with ample land filled with potential. What role do you believe rural agriculture can play in this competitive sector?
Rural agriculture is very important because it produces food and people must eat. These days, in the rural areas, there’s locations (ekasi), with a lot of people and they use a lot of vegetables. So if you can plant food it’s easy to get a market that even contributes to job creation. The market is there but people forget that towns surrounding the rural communities are in need of food supply that is closer to them.
You run a successful mixed farming enterprise, a system of farming which involves the growing of crops as well as the raising of livestock. What are its advantages and disadvantages?
The advantage of mixed farming is that you diversify, so you don’t put your eggs in one basket. Farming is dependent on nature, sometimes you can get a hailstorm and your crops get damaged. When that happens, you thankfully have your livestock to fall back on that will keep your business afloat. The disadvantage is that your attention cannot be put on one thing, you must divide your time very carefully so that you don’t neglect your operation. In my opinion, there’s more advantages than disadvantages.
What advice can you give to young farmers that look up to your success story and want to start their business, but struggle with financing their dream?
The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself, is farming something you really want to do or are there external influences? If you really want to farm and finances are a challenge then the best thing to do is to go work, preferably at a successful commercial farm. That way, you can save up some money while you gain experience in order to start your own small business. Young people need to remember that the real test to farming is to start small. Don’t get into farming thinking you are going to make money, let that be the last thing on your mind.
And, before we end off, I need to know… If you won the lottery today, what would the farmer in you do?
I’d definitely buy myself my own farm!
Be sure to tune in tonight on People’s Weather (PPL WX) on DStv channel 180 and Openview channel 115 to see Aldrin Lawrence in the season finale of For the love of the land. The episode is broadcast at 18:00 and 21:00 tonight and 10:00 tomorrow morning.