These women farm with dry beans, potatoes and maize in Enhlanhleni near Reichenau Mission. They are part of the Underberg Farmers Association.
These women farm with dry beans, potatoes and maize in Enhlanhleni near Reichenau Mission. They are part of the Underberg Farmers Association.

Learning the ropes of becoming a successful farmer is probably the hardest thing to do when you have just entered the farming industry. As an aspiring farmer, you are faced with several obstacles and how you handle them determines whether you will sink or ultimately rise.

The Underberg Farmers Association (UFA) in KwaZulu-Natal have made it their mission to help upcoming farmers by introducing them to experienced farmers. This helps emerging farmers learn from the men and women who have been in the industry for years.

Wayne McNamara, spokesperson for UFA, says their aim is to bring new and experienced farmers together and to close the gap between them. “We would like to see an inclusive community. Large and small producers form part of the same local economy. We live in a rich agricultural area. We have dairy, beef, sheep, goat, pig, maize, potato and soya farmers. There is a large divide between commercial farmers and rural new farmers; we would like to see that divide shrink.”

According to McNamara, he has witnessed seven common obstacles, ranging from funding to land, that new farmers encounter along the way. He says:

* “Everybody will tell you that funding is the greatest obstacle. This is true; however, we cannot always place the blame for failing on external and uncontrollable factors.

* “I have found that there is a clear lack of practical training and education for new farmers. We are constantly bombarded with news about the need for land and its benefits, but are left blissfully unaware of the responsibility for using that land productively.

* “New farmers are not always given the relevant training on how to use their land productively and economically. Access to land is another challenge. In many rural communities, the most productive land is used for grazing, where in fact it could be used to produce crops that could improve livestock production.

* “Then there is the issue of security for the livestock and crops. Livestock theft is rampant in rural communities. Commercial operations can afford to invest in security for their animals, but not new farmers. Theft of produce from fields is also a major problem. On a commercial farm a small loss to theft does not make a major impact to profits at the end of the season, however a small producer can be negatively impacted.

* “Then there is the effect of social issues. Good land is left fallow because historically they belong to a family who no longer farms, but who are not willing to let others have access. I have found very knowledgeable and capable farmers not being able to work to their full potential because they were not allowed access to other available fields.

* “Access to reliable markets where they can sell what they produce is also a major challenge. There is no point in producing more than you need when it will only go to waste. The high cost of inputs scares many new farmers into inaction.”

Doug Armstrong who is a farm manager in the Underberg area addressing a group of emerging farmers.
Doug Armstrong who is a farm manager in the Underberg area addressing a group of emerging farmers.

UFA may not be able to help emerging farmers overcome all these problems at the same time, but they do support them with the necessary knowledge when it comes to farming techniques and equipment. The association trains new farmers to be more productive on their own pieces of land and use their equipment as productively as possible.

In partnership with other agricultural role players, such as the Red Meat Producers Organization (RPO), Milk Producers Organization (MPO) and the Kwa Sani local municipality, McNamara says they offer free farming courses to new farmers.

“These courses are AgriSETA accredited and helps build confidence in emerging farmers. We use these opportunities to build strong relationships where we can share information and skills, and build potential market networks for the farmers.”

Overcoming these problems is part of the greater test, because to farm is not easy. McNamara believes if you want to succeed as a farmer you need to be driven by a single-minded purpose. And if you really love farming, no one and nothing will be able to stop you from doing so.

*For information about the Underberg Farmers Association contact Wayne McNamara on 033 701 1007 or ufaliaison@futurenet.co.za.