‘You cannot sit all day,’ says award-winning Free State farmer

It has taken Bodulo Mabote ten years of hard work to build his mixed farming operation in the Free State. Picture: Supplied

As income levels continue to rise in South Africa, the preference for meat products from local sources is set to keep increasing. This is an opportunity in the market that Bodulo Mabote saw and grabbed with both hands.  

Mabote runs a commercial Bonsmara cattle operation on Olyvenfontein, a 1 318 ha farm he acquired through the Pro-active Land Acquisition (PLAS) programme. He registered Bodulo Mabote Investments as an agricultural business in March 2010 and operates it on the farm in the Lejweleputswa District, 10 km outside Boshoff in the Free State.

Although the main focus of the farming enterprise is cattle, the business earns its revenue from producing red meat and vegetables. Mabote decided to also venture into vegetable production to improve his cash flow.

“I also farm with Dohne Merino sheep. I believe in mixed farming. You cannot sit the whole day watching calves grow. You have to do something, ” Mabote says.

The fresh produce is marketed to retail outlets in Bloemfontein and Kimberley.  The location of the farm, approximately 60 km from Kimberley and 130 km from Bloemfontein, makes it ideal for vegetable production. It has the ideal soil type for vegetable farming with sufficient water, of which 9ha is under irrigation.

Mabote employs two full-time workers on his farm and during the vegetable seasons an additional 12 seasonal workers.

Excelling in Sernick Emerging Farmer Programme

In 2018, Mabote joined the Sernick Emerging Farmer Programme and started attending intensive training in animal production.

The programme was born in 2018 as a partnership between the Sernick Group and The Jobs Fund. All the participants are given SETA accredited training and an opportunity to exchange their old stock with good quality cattle that fetch higher prices at the market.

The initiative is a comprehensive intervention in which emerging black farmers are recruited, trained, set up and provided with supply opportunities through integration into the Sernick Group’s value chain.

The programme is divided into three tiers. A total of 660 farmers were recruited for tier 1 training. From the 660, 300 farmers were selected for tier 2, where they were equipped with technical skills to develop their own herds while maintaining healthy cash flows to meet their working capital requirements.

In 2019 Mabote not only made the cut to be one of the 31 farmers selected for tier 3, but he distinguished himself enough to be named Sernick Farmer of the Year and best student in animal husbandry. He credits his success in the programme to David Whitfield, Sernick’s tier 3 mentor.

The tier 3 farmers get further support to develop their businesses into viable commercial entities with their own reproductive capacity. The best of these tier 3 farmers will be selected to tier 4 and will be given the opportunity to acquire shares in Sernick Wholesale, a new company that will be established to consolidate the group’s wholesaling operations. The tier 4’s will also obtain shares in the Sernick abattoir.

Mabote says he is greatly inspired by Nick Serfontein, owner of the Sernick Group. “He is very special to us, the black South African farmers,” Mabote says.

Having been on the farm for the past 10 years, Mabote and his business has struggled through the drought experienced over the past couple of seasons like other farmers in the area.

“I was hit hard by the drought, but try to encourage my fellow farmers to think creatively outside the box to address all the issues related to surviving these circumstances. We must remain hard working and doing what we do to the best of our abilities.”

It was a proud day for Bodulo Mabote when the chairman of the Sernick Group, Nick Serfontein (right), handed over the Sernick Farmer of the Year award to him in 2019. Photo: Supplied

UPDATED on 23 June 2020, to correct the number of farmers in tier 3 of the Sernick Emerging Farmer Programme and to include details on tier 4 of the programme.

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