Kwenzokuhle Majola’s fondest memories as a child were when he’d go to look after a herd of livestock at a family farm in Swartberg, a farming community in the East Griqualand near Kokstad in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
“I like playing with cows and seeing how they react. For example, if you have a calf that’s lost a mother and you are feeding it yourself, that whole appreciation of what it gives back in terms of energy,” says Majola (27) fondly.
As far back as he can remember, farming has been a family pursuit, Majola recalls. His grandfather was a successful farmer and so are his parents. “Unlike most children, the first thing I knew was to drive a tractor at the age of nine when I was feeding cattle,” he tells me.
His parents would instruct him to look after livestock either during weekends or school break. He enjoyed this experience and, fascinatingly, almost two decades later, he still does.
Majola’s perpetual endearment for agriculture, particularly livestock, moulded by his family background, led him to professionalise his passion.
He went to study for a national diploma, majoring in animal production at Cedara Agricultural Institute in Howick in the Free State. This was after he tried a bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of KZN, which he quit two years later as he was unimpressed that the course was theory-driven.
In 2015, he obtained his diploma and took over the family farming operation of over 1 000 hectares in Swartberg.
Driven to grow
They primarily focus on beef and wool, with angus cattle making up 95% of the cattle, and dohne merino sheep yielding about 35 tons of wool per year. All in all he looks after about 1200 heads of livestock.
On top of his cattle and sheep livestock operation, Majola has planted 200 hectares of yellow maize for farm use. However, it turns out that most of his maize produce is sold off.
However, he still feels his farming operation is on the small side. While grateful for the good work and his journey thus far, he says he is not a fan of stagnation.
“I can’t be complacent that my [current farming operation] is a lot. In the sense of economic scale, it’s just a numbers game. What separates me from other people is the aggressive nature of saying I must not be comfortable with where I am currently at.”
“There’s no ceiling. I haven’t yet reached my peak, you can only plateau. Always [one has to] think outside of the box and see what opportunities are there.”
Nevertheless, Majola’s farming operation is growing steadily. Right now, his ultimate goal is expanding his market access.
“We’re looking at tapping into exports now. I’m moving away from the primary aspect of agriculture, I am into the secondary-tertiary level of it,” he tells me. “I’m always pushing hard. There are always new developments and you need to tap into the market that no one is doing.”
Majola says he wants to diversify his operation by venturing into vegetables, preferably potatoes. “The demand for potatoes is huge in the market. The potential of that crop is more sustainable. It’s something I am looking at in the future.”
Oh, I almost forgot! This farmer does not perceive himself as a farmer. “I am an entrepreneur, because it’s not only the production side, it’s the marketing aspects and everything in between [that I need] to pay attention to to make the business succeed,” he says, adding that this mentality could help other farmers to run profitable and sustainable agribusinesses.
Support on the farm
Majola draws inspiration from his admirable predecessor. “My father is my mentor. There are a lot of lessons I’ve learned [from him] in terms of running the operation and making decisions. He’s encouraged me to be open-minded.” Majola also receives support from his sisters. They serve as a voice of reason and to validate his thoughts when he wants to make critical decisions.
To successfully run the farm, Majola is assisted by eight permanent staff members. “It’s critical to be more efficient. Whenever we need extra [people to assist in the farm], we do get temporary labour,” he says.
When interacting with his employees about issues concerning the operation, Majola uses a laissez-faire management style. “I have a foreman who’s been in the industry for over 20 years. I give him leeway to run the operation. I’d only say ‘let’s make a change here and there’ because of technological advances and I’d explain why we have to change. This also helps them to grow their knowledge base. We have a great working relationship and it’s been working really well for us.”
Majola is fortunate that his parents and grandparents cemented a solid foundation for their offspring. However, not many black emerging farmers are like him as a result of inaccessibility of vast amounts of land.
He strongly believes the government should give land back to previously disadvantaged groups in order to alleviate poverty and foster prospects which will revitalise the economy.
“Land is a mechanism to create new wealth. It’s an opportunity to start and have a tangible asset that you can trade with,” Majola says.
“The natives of this country need to be given back not only land, but land that has high potential. I see people being given land [where there’s lower chances of rainfall], that’s not giving land back. It needs to be redistributed in a fairer manner. When people were relocated during apartheid, the land which they were dispossessed of was significant for agriculture.”
He adds: “Black people need to be confident that we can farm, because our forefathers have been doing it. It’s just that we are not exposed to agriculture.”