Mzansi’s farming fields are home to some of the most inspiring stories of farmers, who in spite of trials and tribulations, work the land passionately.
This year farmers had to plan production at a time when global and economic shifts made it virtually impossible to farm profitably. But as always, with a fair share of ups and downs, farms remained resilient.
Over the past year, Food For Mzansi spoke to hundreds of farmers whose stories left us inspired and in some cases, crying. Here are 15 of our favourite farmer stories from all corners of this beautiful country. Let us know if you found your favourite in the list below.
Breaking barriers on all-women winemaking team
As a young viticulturist, Ruth Faro often has to work with experienced farmers who seem to not accept her knowledge or skills. But this doesn’t put her off one bit.
“I put my head down and say my decisions are for the team and for the company,” she told Food For Mzansi in an interview.
Growing up in Wellington in the Western Cape, Faro had always wanted to be a social worker. She tried following her dreams in 2011, but missed the college application deadline. Three years later, she found her career careening in a totally different direction, and found her passion in viticulture.
Despite the challenges she faces, Faro is still incredibly enthusiastic about viticulture and the wine industry in general. She explains that she wants more black people to join the industry, but she also urges them only to join if they are passionate about it.
‘Why be broke if you have a brain, hands and soil?’
After purchasing her beautiful 23-hectare farm, Dr Ethel Zulu told us that it was never her intention to farm on it but rather to build an agri training academy.
Today she farms with over 7 500 broilers. Within a period of three years she became a supplier for various retail stores in South Africa and has 12 employees working on her farm.
Zulu, who is also an agricultural trainer with a doctorate in nutrition, believes South Africans deserve affordable, good quality locally grown food products, and she wants government to support local entrepreneurs. Not only to grow food, but also to process it
“I believe that our people deserve a good quality product, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg,” said Zulu.
Zulu is also a board member of the Joburg Fresh Produce Market.
Farming couple lives and breathes Ankole cattle
Just ask around. Claire and Martin Joubert are the envy of most cattle breeders in South Africa and rightfully so. Their Full Blood Genetics agribusiness is one of few in the country to breed Ankole cattle.
The duo built their business from the ground up, using cattle that are direct descendants of the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s Royal herd. Today, they own Africa’s most expensive Ankole cow and co-own the continent’s most expensive Ankole bull calf.
But the two have sacrificed and struggled a lot to become top breeders of Ankole cattle in South Africa.
Their farming dream looked nearly impossible at some point, but for them, giving up was never an option because once they had set their sights on these majestic animals, they wanted to offer only the very best Ankole genetics in the country
Soldier-farmer breeds Nguni to honour Zulu tradition
A soldier by profession and a budding Nguni cattle breeder, Phakade Khanyile is determined to push the boundaries with his herd. Nguni cattle have long been the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture
As an active soldier for the South African National Defence Force, Phakade Khanyile is determined to push the boundaries with his herd. This Nguni cattle farmer has over two decades’ experience with the army.
His unwavering spirit is proven by the fact that he not only serves his country, but agriculture. Six years ago, he started working with his father who runs a commercial farming operation with Beefmaster cattle, sheep, and crops.
“In ten years’ time, I hope my business is sound and stable with good financial performance and a good herd with a solid reputation for quality that has been developed over years.”
Aldrin’s secrets to being an award-winning potato farmer
“I am new into potatoes but old in farming,” Aldrin Lawrence told Food For Mzansi in an interview earlier this year.
Lawrence was crowned Potatoes South Africa 2022’s Enterprise Development Farmer of the Year. He competed against two other finalists from Limpopo and won an all-expenses paid trip to a potato conference in Malawi as well as Bayer products worth R65 000.
Receiving top honours in the potato industry is not easy and it took years before Lawrence’s patience paid off. Besides sweat and hard labour, he shared in the article what it takes to get to the top.
“I’ve established my own brand, which is Buyshoek Boerdery. Even if the markets are full, I still get the best price of the lowest.”
Housekeeper swaps apron for gardening boots
Ask her and she’ll tell you, nothing brings Mpho Nene more joy than growing food with her teenage sons. What started out as a hobby expanded into a profitable business for her and her family.
The mother of two teen sons grows cabbage, onions, spinach, beetroot, lettuce, cucumber, chilli, peppers, and tomatoes on a half-hectare piece of land in the Mpumalanga village of Boekenhouthoek, 130 kilometres from Pretoria
But she hasn’t always done this. In another lifetime, Nene worked as a housekeeper.
Once bogged down in someone else’s house, Nene abandoned her full-time job to pursue a career in growing vegetables.
“When we first started planting, it was just for us and our family friends. We started small in the backyard. But as we kept harvesting, our neighbours started asking why we didn’t sell to them and the locals, because the vegetables were taking off and were of good quality,” she said.
‘The farm’s arms are always open’
When you first see Izelle Janse van Rensburg, you may not automatically think “this is a farmer”. But that is the beauty of making your own rules in agriculture, isn’t it? Not conforming to anyone’s view of what you should be.
Van Rensburg is the first female producer in her family and is committed to growing the farm and her workers.
“A lot of people didn’t expect me to want to farm,” she said.
“My father only has daughters, and my life was different before I decided to farm. I was married young, and after the divorce, I decided to move back and work here. Die plaas se arms is altyd oop. (The farm’s arms are always open.).”
As much as her father was her mentor and taught her a lot of what she knows about farming, she would like to forge her own path; to innovate and come up with better ways to do things.
This farmer drives transformation… in a tractor!
Zabion de Wee is hard at work building a name for himself in Mzansi’s agricultural sector. As a commercial farmer and John Deere’s business development manager, De Wee is serious about making a difference.
“I want to leave this country in a better place,” he told us.
“I come from a very small place [where] you are surrounded by a farming community. Growing up, for me, that’s what [I] looked forward to becoming one day. The passion for agriculture started early.”
De Wee feels perfectly placed to drive transformative change in Mzansi’s agricultural sector. He explained that their company’s aim is to create top commercial-scale black farmers.
Unemployment drives Mchunu to new heights
Bongiwe Mchunu from Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal had a clear path planned for her life, which included becoming one of the finest electrical engineers in South Africa. She studied hard but the system failed her and soon found herself unemployed with a degree that meant nothing.
So instead of sitting back and being miserable about her current situation, Mchunu got going with what she had, and today has a thriving small-scale farming operation in Eshowe.
“I didn’t have any luck getting a job, so being unemployed pushed me to just start with the little that I have. I farm with butternut, sugar beans and oyster mushrooms on five hectares of land in Eshowe,” she says.
‘Dream, then pursue it,’ urges tomato farmer
Every now and then we speak to some of the most inspiring #SheBosses in Mzansi. Anja Fourie, from the farm Driefontein just outside Bethulie, is one of them.
Fourie started her tomato farming business in 2005 for one reason and one reason only. “I didn’t just want to be a farmer’s wife (her husband, Frans is also a farmer). I wanted to make a difference. Then the tomatoes crossed my path,” Fourie told Food For Mzansi earlier this year.
Today, she’s the proud owner of Timeless Tomatoes.
“As the first person to grow this particular crop in an area of the province which is dominated by sheep farming, challenges were many; including a lack of capital, soil imbalances and dying plants, and – because of the farm’s isolated location – a lack of access to industry experts.”
Don’t harp on your problems, says proud NW pig farmer
When Nomathemba Langa from Brits in North West received a farm from her father, she wanted to build on the legacy he started.
But it would take grit and hard work to get where she is right now – a pig farmer who provides quality pork to retailers. And to top it all off, she uses the farm as a training centre for aspirant farmers.
Langa is a firm believer that if at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and try again. This is a life lesson that has taken her pig production to the next level.
“For example, if you’re not getting funding, you need to ask yourself what are you doing that can generate income for yourself to grow, instead of being stressed.
“I am basically saying, do not stick to your problems, rather take them and see if you can make something out of it,” she said.
Former farmworker shows who’s the boss
The odds have always been stacked against Jolian du Preez, a farmworker turned farm owner. As the son of a farmworker and a general worker at a primary school, Du Preez’s options were limited. While he has always been aware of his limitations, they have never stopped him from dreaming big.
“My father was a general worker at our local school in Haarlem. Those days in Haarlem, there were no townships. Everyone had a piece of land where they could plant fruit trees, vegetables and also keep a few animals, mostly pigs.”
Inspired by this way of life, Du Preez set out a course to carve his own path in agriculture.
After years of toil, du Preez worked himself up to the top and today he is the proud owner of a 51-hectare farm in the Klein Karoo. He takes us on his remarkable journey to success
Beer brewer bounces back with UK deal
When government dealt her a bad hand through alcohol bans, beer brewer Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela refocused on brand building. “I needed to keep the brand going and prove to myself and the powers that be that this was initially not a mistake”
Through months of blanket bans on alcohol sales Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, the founder of Brewsters Craft, watched her once-booming business dwindle before her eyes. In June 2021 she called it quits on her brewery when it became impossible for her to continue with production.
Nxusani-Mawela refocused on brand building. The industry trailblazer kept working hard on brand awareness, then started contract-brewing Tolokazi Craft Beer.
And when everyone thought it was impossible, Nxusani-Mawela made a strong comeback distributing 200 000 cans of her Tolokazi Sorghum Pilsner beer throughout the UK to 100 000 people.
Hair entrepreneur sets sights on farming
If you look up mover and shaker in the dictionary, Yolanda Mbolompo’s names should written there. She has always had a gift for spotting golden opportunities.
Mbolompo started her small-scale mixed farming business on a small piece of land at her family home in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape. On the 0.5 hectares, the entrepreneur grows cabbage, peppers and potatoes that she sells in the community.
But that’s not it. She also own a hair product company, hair salon and student accommodation facility. And by the look of things, she’s far from done.
When it comes to taking chances, this Eastern Cape business woman is not scared to take the leap.
Homesteaders create a place to learn and grow
The Galloway family in the their Eastern Cape is sitting neatly on an off-the-grid retreat where they practice and teach ecologically sustainable farming and living in harmony with nature.
Heartwood Homestead is completely off-the-grid, with the Galloways implementing regenerative agriculture practices to keep it running smoothly.
When this family purchased their farm just north of East London three years ago, it was the culmination of a way of living they had started years before.
Roger Galloway, a graphic designer by trade, said the move into farming was not intentional at all.
“I don’t think it was an intentional decision that we sat down and thought we’d have a career path or change of career paths. It just was one thing that led to another and then we ended up where we are now.
“We started with a veggie garden, and then we got some chickens. Then we moved and got some sheep and then we added some cows and next thing you know, we got pigs and rabbits and we scaled up.”
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