Changed by an ordeal he survived 20 years ago, Free State farmer Wessel Bibbey looked deep into his own soul. Today, he is mentoring young and dynamic farmers in an effort to advance land reform and inclusivity in the agricultural space.
Bibbey is featured in tonight’s episode of For the love of the land, a brand-new farmers’ show on DSTV and Openview.
Having suffered a heart attack nearly two decades ago, Bibbey (51) experienced an epiphany that set in motion the birth of an empowerment project he calls the Adama Land Reform Initiative.
Adama is the brainchild of Bibbey and his wife, Estie (48), and first came into fruition in 2013. The generational farmer and his wife donated land and cattle for the purpose of raising a new generation of farmers.
Bibbey’s inspiring story will be broadcast at 18:00 and 21:00 tonight and 10:00 tomorrow morning. Be sure to tune in on People’s Weather (PPL WX) on DStv channel 180 and Openview channel 115. New episodes air every evening for the next two weeks with omnibuses to catch up on Sunday.
In anticipation of the show, produced by Food For Mzansi in partnership with the VKB Group, Bibbey chats to Gugulethu Mahlangu, a Gauteng-based farmer and participant of Food For Mzansi’s Sinelizwi citizen journalism programme.
Gugulethu Mahlangu: Land is a very touchy subject in our country, Wessel. How do think young black farmers can overcome the challenge of securing land?
We try to develop the person’s skills first before we can start securing land. We need to first equip young farmers, mentor them to be prepared to get the land.
I believe that’s how the land reform approach must be looked at: prepare young, black students for the land that’s available. The land subject is always a tough one, but the main challenge for black, upcoming farmers is that they need schools and practical experience. We, at Adama projects, try our best to do that for young students because there’s a huge backlog of skills to farm.
How can qualified agricultural students join your initiative?
It’s so easy for one to apply for our Adama projects. You need to be an agriculture graduate from any verified institution. Then you just give us a call during November and December so that we can organise an interview with you. We usually pick only two to three students.
In your opinion, what is the “easiest” and “most profitable” crop to farm if you have limited resources, for example land and capital?
This is a very tough question that a lot of people interested in farming ask. South Africa has different provinces with different climates with its own requirements. You should always do research and the main questions you should investigate is market access and location.
We are in a cold region with frost during winter so we farm with winter crops such as cabbage, spinach and beetroot. This year, we are implementing mielies on a small portion of land with our students, because you can plant mielies with your hand, it doesn’t require a lot of machinery and equipment such as tractors.
The students can then get to sell to their mielies to the nearest local markets even with minimum resources. So, its very important to do your research and start with what you can get access too.
Many young, black farmers want to be commercial farmers and compete with farmers like yourself. Do you have any tricks and tips to share?
I see a lot of young black farmers at our Adama projects who didn’t grow up on farms. They have a backlog of skills: some of them don’t have a license so they can’t drive tractors; they don’t know how to work with animals.
These are my observations that make me determined to help out where I can. I think it’s unfair to compete with these big commercial farmers if you have never had training. We have been farming for three to four generations, we grew up on farms. We started driving bakkies and tractors when we were eight or nine years old, we worked with animals since we were babies.
So, I really do see the gap and we need to help speed up the upcoming young black farmers to grow and be just as successful. I also hope more commercial farmers can come to the party and give these determined young farmers the opportunities we had when we were younger.
My biggest tip is that the young black farmers need to get on a farm to gain experience for three to four years and get a mentor who will stick with them and see their growth through.
The agriculture sector in our country is very successful, what can we look forward to in the next five years?
Yes, it’s true that the agriculture sector is successful, but success can mean different things to each person. For me, it’s not about being this rich farmer with fancy cars and houses, but its about the people. In that regard, our agricultural sector needs a push.
I always think about the farmworkers, students and the people who grow this sector to what it is today. If successful farmers can put more into the development and training to create more farmers, then we will be truly successful as a nation.
The good news is that our country is food secure, so the next five years still looks promising. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has exposed the agriculture sector as an important one, people are now realising that whatever happens, we need food. Depending on the climate and rainfall in the next five years, I’m very excited about our maize and soybeans markets.
If you were a billionaire and could export any fruit or vegetable, which would you choose and why?
If I were a billionaire, I would like to get a big farm and export our fruits in the country, because we produce top quality, especially citrus and grapes!
Be sure to tune in tonight on People’s Weather (PPL WX) on DStv channel 180 and Openview channel 115 to see Wessel Bibbey in episode 3 of For the love of the land. The episode is broadcast at 18:00 and 21:00 tonight and 10:00 tomorrow morning. Tune in tomorrow evening at the same times for episode 4.