Watch out, these young farmers are on fire!

Who says agriculture is just for old folks? These four young people from different provinces and walks of life have one thing in common - to inspire others like themselves and leave a lasting legacy

Young people are making their presence felt in Mzansi's agriculture sector. From left to right: Ncumisa Mkabile, Ruth Faro, Keneilwe Raphesu and Phikolomzi Qinisa Dlamini. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Agriculture in South Africa is slowly changing, with more young people moving into the sector every day. This Youth Month, we focus on four young farmers who are making waves in their industries.

Though statistically still the playground of older people, more and more of Mzansi’s young people are comprehending just how important the sector is. With issues like food security becoming more urgent, young people are stepping up to the plate and taking their place as tomorrow’s leaders.

At Food For Mzansi, we recognise the importance of young people in agriculture. Have a look at our list of young people to watch in the sector.

Blazing a trail in the wine industry

As one of the founding members of Adama Wines, viticulturalist Ruth Faro did not ever foresee that she would end up in the wine industry. In 2013, Faro was still attempting to follow her dreams of being a social worker, but unemployment pushed her into the first role she could find.

“A friend of mine told me there was an advert in the newspaper about a place in Stellenbosch called the Pinotage Youth Development Academy. It’s an academy that helps disadvantaged students to get [work] within the wine industry. So, I applied in 2013 and in May 2014, I got accepted. It was a year-long course, and what they did is [educate us] on the whole sector within the wine industry.”

Faro’s time at the academy sparked a passion for wine farming that she did not know she possessed.

Ruth Faro, viticulturalist at Adema Wines. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“In the vineyards, you [get] to see how everything looks and you have to do different [things]. When you plant the rootstock, [you see] how will it develop and how that young vine is going to have to bear [fruit] for 15 years. So, that is actually where my passion is.”

Now, at 29 years old, Faro works as the viticulturalist on the women-run wine brand Adama Wines. As one of the first members of the team, she remembers when there was just two of them working on the brand. Now they stand nine women strong, and have managed to grow their brand even during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Faro says she is immensely proud of the work they do, and hopes that it inspires other young women to get into the industry as well.

“I actually want to be one of the voices who help young people out there to enter the industry and to learn more because the opportunities in it are so big and there’s so much room to grow as an individual.”

Read Faro’s full story here.

Khayelitsha’s “Spinach Queen” keeps on growing

Ncumisa Mkabile (29) is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. Born in Cofimvaba, in the Eastern Cape, Mkabile has to shut down her takeaway business in 2020, when the pandemic restrictions took away her market. Undeterred, the innovative young woman looked for her next opportunity, and found that poultry was a popular commodity.

“I started in March [2020]. I was selling on the street and doing door-to-door deliveries. When I saw that the demand was high for chicken, I decided to farm chicken and supply to people who would like to start their own businesses, while still doing my deliveries.”

Despite the success of her poultry business, or perhaps because of it, Mkabile also invested her energy into crop farming. She had initially decided to grow green peppers in the summer, but realised that winter can also be a season of opportunity.

“I went on the internet, and I saw that I can actually plant spinach, which is a winter crop, and cabbage. I saw that spinach is easy to maintain and can survive any weather conditions. That is where my journey started!”

Ncumisa Mkabile is a mixed farmer from the Western Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

2020 was a great year for Mkabile, and it only got better in 2021, when she expanded to include green peppers into her business. She even opened a small butchery called Yummy Nyama.

Mkabile is set on establishing a legacy for her family and creating jobs for the people in her community.

“Whatever I am doing now, I am leaving a legacy for them, so an agriculture inheritance will come from me”.

You can view Mkabile’s full story here.

Building to help future generations

Many farmers will tell you that you cannot make a success of farming if you are not passionate about the industry. Luckily for 24-year-old Phikolomzi Qinisa Dlamini, his passion for farming revealed itself very early in his life.

“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.”

Dlamini was in grade six at the time, and had followed his passion all the way to college, graduating from Cedara College of Agriculture in KwaZulu-Natal in 2019. At only 22 years old, Dlamini started working as a farm manager at Ndela Farming, where he ensures the proper running of the operation.

Phikolomzi Qinisa Dlamini is deeply passionate about farming. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“Without passion, you cannot farm. You will quit after the very first day, because it is not easy.”

Dlamini’s eyes are already on the future. He advises aspiring young farmers to go to agricultural college if they want to realise their dreams.

““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.”

You can read Dlamini’s full story here.

Farming is in her blood

Raised in the village of Ga-Mokgopo in Limpopo, Keneilwe Raphesu (24) used to watch her grandparents tend to their land. Generational farmers, they passed their skills down to Raphesu’s father, who in turn passed them down to her.

“Having the urge to learn more about agriculture was where my inspiration to farm grew. I just started loving farming and decided I might as well go ahead and join my father.”

Raphesu’s father, former Limpopo University lecturer Dr Mamabolo Raphesu, swopped out academia for farming, something Raphesu emulated. They now run Mogalemone Farm together, a mixed farming operation housing cattle, pigs, soya beans, and maize.

Keneilwe Raphesu grew up surrounded by farming. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Farming is a tough and demanding industry, but is one of the best careers to take up if excellence is your goal, Raphesu says..

“Agriculture is a life force in our communities. You can see a doctor every month, but you eat three times a day and that is all because of a farmer.”

She encourages other young people, especially young women, to get into farming.

“Work with the little that you have, be empowered, and be willing to learn. We cannot start from the top, you start from the bottom and work your way up.”

Read Raphesu’s full story here.

ALSO READ: Meet SA’s young stars taking agritech to the next level

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