Today, on the 45th anniversary of the Soweto uprising in 1976, we celebrate a diverse farmers’ crop who are committed to not only growing the agricultural sector, but moving South Africa forward.
Every day is Youth Day at Food For Mzansi. After all, we unashamedly salute the unsung heroes of agriculture because we believe in their power to create social cohesion in South Africa.
We also echo the sentiments of agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza who said, “We have to actually listen to what young people, who are the future of this agricultural sector and agribusinesses, are saying to us.”
Agriculture unites people
One of the thousands of farmers we have already celebrated at Food For Mzansi is Whernit Dirks, an award-winning producer who first started out as a farmworker.
“Agriculture brings people together regardless of race and colour. If we all work together, it’s possible. I would even go as far as saying that agriculture is the only thing that has the ability to bring our nation closer together,” says Dirks.
When the opportunity to lay the foundation for his own farming business presented itself at 17, Dirks seized the moment with both hands. Today, he runs an ever-growing agriculture empire with his family, growing grain, rooibos and breeding Meatmaster sheep on close to 1 200 hectares of land.
Called to serve through farming
It was ten years ago when dairy farmer Siviwe Tikana (28) joined a missionary organisation in his gap year after high school to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. During his time as a missionary, he travelled throughout Africa.
That is where he saw a lot of injustices that were happening against women.
“I looked at the need and how these women actually work and how agriculture plays such a huge role in their daily lives and I was like, okay, this is really something that I want to be part of,” he says.
Buddies turn farm problem into tech company
When FG Adriaanse designed a technology solution to a problem faced on the family farm, he could never imagine that it would develop into a company serving more than 100 clients across Africa.
Adriaanse, who was born and raised on the Cape West Coast, is the founder and joint MD of Adagin Technologies, providing farmers with solutions in precision harvesting, packing and job costing.
Building his future without hands
Born without hands due to a congenital condition, Sibusiso Mogale (33) works his entire 1.5-hectare farm mainly using his feet. This is how he prepares the soil for planting a variety of vegetables and tends to the chickens in his 2 000-capacity chicken house.
He tells us, “When I was younger there were certain things that I felt were unfair, but now that I am older I have a different, positive recollection of how good my upbringing was,” he says.
The importance of following your heart
Boitumelo Modisane’s father initially discouraged her from farming, fearing for her marriage prospects. She followed her heart, anyway, choosing agriculture after a corporate career.
She says, “Seeing my dad doing what he does best as an entrepreneur and a professional, I was always so inquisitive in this boys’ area of farming, wanting to drive a tractor, being hands on.”
The future smells sweet like lavender
Lavender farmer Ingrid de Waal spends hours tending the bushy and strong-scented perennial plants grown on her wine and lavender farm. She is one a handful female producers and suppliers of lavender in the country. Also, she is among a selected group of producers of raw lavender honey.
She tells us, “I’ve never been a limelight person. I usually run away from it. Yes, it’s nice to be recognised and taken note of, but that’s not really important to me. For me it’s about the joy I get from my work and what I can teach other people.”
The green farmer who started as a volunteer
While she may come from a lineage of Mpumalanga subsistence farmers, Gugulethu Mahlangu (27) admits that she did not initially see a future in agriculture. Today, she owns a 14-hectare oasis of ten hydroponic tunnels producing leafy green vegetables.
She says, “I never thought I’d be a farmer, even though I am exposed to farmers in my family. My great-grandmother was a farmer and so was my grandmother. I have been surrounded by agriculture my entire life, but I never really took an interest.”
The rest, as they say, is history.