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RSA 2010 World Cup, what did it have for ordinary SMMEs?

The count to the Fifa World Cup was down to days. The excitement in big towns was palpable. Even in the major townships you could not miss the facelifts in preparation for this historical event.  I then once walked down Mandela’s old Orlando West street and felt as if I was walking down Soweto’s Avenue des Champs-Elysees.  The media were abuzz with jiggles and colourful stories about the state of the stadia.

“2010 – this is the year for South Africa and Africa,” I had thought. As I had struggled out of 2009, which was a year of financial woes and the credit crunch, I felt such a crunch on my purse that in desperation I had asked myself what 2010 was bringing for an emerging farmer.

If there was an emerging farmer, a government department or a business guru out there who had some good news, I pleaded with them to share it because at that time 2010 did not look that bright to me. At the beginning of that year, I had to “right size’’ my broiler operation. In the last quarter of 2009 I had between 9 000 and 13 000 chickens on site and in the first two months on 2010 I had cut that by two thirds.

Now, I am convinced that whoever coined the phrase ignorance is bliss was a sadist with a twisted sense of humour.  Ignorance has caused me pain.  It was my lack of information about managing the breed of my broilers which plunged me into losing up to half of my birds.

I was heart broken as I watched my “profit” die in scores and it was a long drawn out pain.

Every time I looked at my vet bill I froze a little bit and when I looked at the feed bill I wanted to die. The irony was that overfeeding was killing my chickens. The fattest, most beautiful and biggest of the lot simply had “heart attacks’’ and died.

I finally took my problem to the breeder’s technical advisor and her diagnosis came in two sentences: “Your brooding programme is sub-optimal and your lighting programme is wrong. If your chicks get cold within the first seven days they will die at five weeks and there is nothing you can do about it.’’

You see, nobody had handed me a management programme for this breed and I relied on my poor knowledge from the previous literature I had read, which of course was for a different breed.  So my brooding temperature was always about five degrees off and that condemned half my chicks to death at five weeks. Mind you, five weeks is a week before I sell them.

I later discovered that the death of these chickens was more costly than just in lost sales, unhappy customers and piling bills.  I was losing money on four fronts: high electricity bills because I did not switch off at night for the chickens to rest; my feed bills soared because as long as there was light the chickens ate; I had high vet bills as I fought an already lost cause trying to save these birds dying from over feeding; and lastly I lost sales and had unhappy customers.

So as 2010 dawned, I had no option but to right size to ensure I had enough brooding equipment and to manage my debts. Since then the mortality went down to 8% but I did not get out of the hole easily.

I still sought answers to profitability and I placed my hope where many other sectors of the economy had – the 2010 World Cup. So I asked: “what does 2010 have for an emerging farmer? How can an emerging farmer benefit from it?” And I was not interested in the “daa” answer such as “these thousands had to eat’’.  I knew that and it did not work for us.

Africa kenako, they said. Well it was not to be for perpetually emerging farmers.

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Form the Land – A conversation with a Ghanaian emerging farmer

When I first met Dr Raphael Avornyo I never guessed we had so much in common except as workers in HIV projects.

He is a lecturer of sociology at University of Cape Coast in Ghana. He is also a linguist fluent in French, English, German and three Ghanaian languages.  But he is also an emerging farmer not just because it brings him closer to nature but because he saw it as a way to supplement his income.

 

“When I came back from studying in Germany in 1988, I got a job as a co-ordinator for an HIV/AIDS organization,’’ he recalls.  “After seeing my first pay I decided I needed to supplement my income. I chose farming so that I could feed my family and the people around me.’’

 

His first venture in 1989 was crop farming – maize, cassava and pineapple farming until 2006 when he relocated with his work to Botswana. His farms were then neglected.

 

When he returned a year later, he chose egg production as a main venture but continued with his cassava and maize fields. His venture includes a few goats breeding of grass cutters, which I thought were oversize cane rats but he said they were “bush meat that is a delicacy in Ghana”.

I thought aha!!! I have found a kindred spirit. I asked him how he juggled an academic career, international consulting engagements and farming.  He agreed that if one is not a full time farmer to take care of day to day business one would have management and operational problems.

 

But unlike me, Raphael grew up in a subsistence farming family so he has better working knowledge of farming than I had when I ventured into bonding with the land. Also as an academic he is more structured and thoughtful in his approach.  When he introduced his layers in 2007 he started with 350 and increased to 750 the following year, last year his flock grew to 2000 and in 2010 he is aiming for 3000. His farm is about 45 minutes away from his home and he collects his harvest twice a week to supply in bustling Accra.

 

But I think his biggest treasure is Michael, his 90-year-old father, who lives on the farm and supervises two dedicated farm hands.

 

“My vision is to contribute massively to the poultry industry in Ghana, where we will not be relying on imported meat and eggs. Currently we import from Europe and USA,” he said

 

“Why can we not feed ourselves?’’ I asked. Africa has all the resources.

 That was the only time an academic in Raphael showed himself.

 His view is that:

  We have human resources – mainly strong, young people – to work the land but they need inputs so that they do not leave the land to chase white collar jobs that are scarce.  But there is need to modernise agriculture;

 

  We have fertile lands, most countries in the continent have abundant rain but we are harvesting water and not making good use of it. We must move away from rain fed agriculture and use irrigation to have significant growth;

 

We also have the market and as a continent, we need to produce and develop marketing strategies to ensure a lot of our produce does not go to waste. “We produce but cannot process, store and package and therefore we are unable to add value which is important for marketing in agriculture,’’ he said.

 

There is need for capital; however banks are not willing to support us.  Even agricultural development banks do not take the realities and peculiarities of seasonal income in account. They do not look for serious farmers and support them to be self sufficient.

 

I left Raphael’s plot smiling with the ever lingering guilt of abdicating my farming venture soothed. I was thinking I am not alone in this; even professors on the other end of the continent see value in agriculture and still face the same issues I face down south. There has to be a better way.

 

 

 

my fiction: the bushman watchman

my fiction: the bushman watchman.

my fiction: the bushman watchman

THE BUSHVELD WATCHMAN

Faction fighting and revenge killings were part of life for the people of uMhlumayo.
MPIYAKHE MBHELE – his first name is isiZulu for one who fights his battles – grew up as part of AmaBhele clan, either attacking AmaJobe or fending off their attacks. It was always men of all ages who died. That changed two months ago when a stray bullet from amaJobe killed Mbhele’s bride and daughter. It entered through the mother’s back, ripped her heart and burst out to scatter the brains of the breastfeeding baby.
Mbhele, bent on revenge, launched an investigation. It was not difficult to find the culprit. AmaJobe were also horrified that a woman and child had been killed. A sacred rule had been breached. They did not want AmaBhele rampaging and killing their mothers, wives and daughters, so they fingered BASHAYE DUBE as the one who pulled the trigger.

For Mpiyakhe, a sharp-shooter, this was personal and he wanted Bashaye, his family and the whole of AmaJobe to sweat. Once his plan was made, he sent out word that he was going after his wife and daughter’s killer. Alone.

“I want him to panic and be as scared as I was when my beloved bled to death. I am also hoping that he will be man enough to attempt to strike first,” he told anyone and everyone who dared to commiserate with him or be within earshot of him.
But the coward had holed himself in his home, not even going out to relieve himself. Then Mbhele heard that Bashaye was expecting his first grandchild soon.
He consulted a sangoma and got umabopha, a potion to obstruct the delivery of a targeted baby. The spell can be undone only when the head of the target family performs prescribed rites.
On the day Bashaye’s wife sent for the village midwife, Mbhele cast his umuthi spell and took his gun.

“I will lay in wait here,” he said picking a spot on a hill with a clear view of the beehive hut Bashaye was holed in. It was not difficult for uMhlumayo was a picturesque rural village with rolling hills that seemed to echo gunfire even during times of peace. Its bushy terrain and willow trees with roots going deep into the banks of the mighty uThukela River ensured the village was evergreen, but many believed it was the spilt blood of the faction fighting victims that fed this greenery.

He lay prone on the hillock under the umbrella of Umsinga trees. He did not worry about being spotted in the lush bushes. He dared not move or fall asleep lest he missed his quarry. In his mind he played over and over the short life he had had with his wife, the dreams he harboured and the events of that dreadful day. He was not aware that he was crying until the salty taste of a solitary tear touched his lips. Time passed by, his teary eyes remained focused on the Dube homestead.
more….

Magalela from the land – Some do leave off farming

The year 2010 started with a bang for most of us, especially at KwaMsizi Farm, the piece of land where I pretend to be a farmer. In December entrepreneurial farmers decided to put 20 hectares of my land out of its misery and put it to good use by planting beans. Mr Victor Mahlinza and Mr Zama Ndaba were something to watch. Patched on their new Massey Ferguson 5465, they knew no festive season and no holiday: it was just a season for planting.

Their story is something that I had to hear and see to snap out of the 2009 woes, what with that year’s financial crunch.

Mahlinza is chairman of Umtshezi Farmers Union. He was born on a farm and grew up knowing that the land provides.

“I left full-time employment in 1994 when I worked as a driver-owner in Johannesburg,’’ he recalls. “I realised I was working all month but did not have enough money to honour my commitments . So I left and came back home to Entabamhlophe.”

He started off with a span of oxen and for 10 years planted his family’s fields and those of neighbours the old fashioned way. But planting them, he did.

Today he and Ndaba are proud owners of state of the art farming equipment and they are now full-time contract farmers for their communities, ploughing in excess of 500 hectares every season.

“I have always been a farmer but I am not sure when I will cease to be seen as an emerging farmer,’’ Mahlinza says humbly, “but I am happy because I know that through farming I am able to cater for all my living needs.”

Mahlinza is a father of eight children and two of them are at university.

The turning point for him came in 2004 when the Department of Agriculture sent some specialists to put lime into their community fields, and show them the no till farming method and the correct use of fertilisers and other chemicals.
“I watched with awe as they covered vast tracks in short time,’’ Mahlinza says.
When the demonstrators left, he and his partner, Ndaba, who is a teacher by profession, went to Ithala to ask for a loan – they needed to buy big toys. They had not done any financials and had rudimentary records. Ithala gave them a consultant to reconstruct their books. Soon they had a Massey Ferguson 440 and from then contract farming became a major part of their business, with income of about R300, 000 (US$45K) per planting season.
Despite the shortage of arable land, the high costs of inputs, and the hazards of Mother Nature, the two have built a thriving farming enterprise. Assisted by Mahlinza’s teenage sons, they plant about 60 hectares of their own made up of leased fields from other families. During Christmas week, I visited them at the Mdwebu community and saw hectare upon hectare maize, seed maize, butternut and pumpkins, kidney beans and sugar beans on dry land fields.
That morning they were preparing 15 hectares for red speckle beans. And our chat was interrupted by calls from community members and farming organisations and unions making bookings. Elderly Mr Mazibuko came walking some distance from his home to ensure that his booking was not forgotten. Mahlinza gave him an impromptu consultation on what fertiliser and seed to buy and where.
I asked what they wished for. “Arable land and more land, storage facilities for our harvest and a place where we can add value,’’ was the quick answer.
I entered 2010 energised, knowing that people like Mahlinza and Ndaba provide evidence that one can make a decent living from the land. This also went a long way to curing me from the phobia of crop farming.
We shall see – maybe ke nako

Magalela from the land: The menace of stock theft

Magalela from the land: The menace of stock theft.

Magalela from the land: The menace of stock theft

Stock Theft!

That’s a sore point and a hazard of the trade for livestock farmers. No, theft is a hazard for all farmers. Thieves go through maize fields or dig potatoes up in the dead of the night. I even heard about how tons of sugar cane were harvested in the middle of the field. Really!
I too have not been spared the abuse of someone walking onto my land and walking off with my future income.

Over the years I have lost a goat here and a sheep there, especially around busy weekends and the festive season, but I had not felt as devastating a loss as when I lost my broiler parent stock.

After the failure of my sheep enterprise, I decided to raise my own broiler parent stock. I wanted to do broilers but I did not think I should buy day-old chicks when I could have my own parent stock, hatch my day-olds and supply to the government sponsored co-ops, etc, etc, lofty ideas. Broiler farming was now in fashion following the collapse of the great egg production scheme.

As I always do when an idea grabs me, I hit my laptop to research and converted one pigsty into a chicken coup, complete with a shower and change-room to satisfy the strict rules for raising parent stock. I also bought a hatching machine with the capacity of 360 eggs. Talk about counting you chicks before they hatch.

My 120-day-old parents – a100 hens and 20 cocks – came. I was to raise them for six months before I could see an egg. In the meantime I bought fertilized eggs and started to use my hatching machine. I did well for the first three hatches and to my delight this time I had no problems with sales. Then the fourth run didn’t hatch and I discovered that manufacturers had forgotten to tell me about sterilizing procedures after every hatch. So huffing and puffing I let the machine rest as I waited for my parent stock to start producing.

For six months I pampered my chicks and they grew to be big, coming almost to my knees, with a few problems. It was a great day when I saw the first couple of eggs. Unfortunately I was not the only one who was watching, tracking growth and celebrating. Thieves were also lurking.

The chickens must have been laying for two weeks when I received THE call from Mvelase who had found the coup empty and all – more than a hundred of my beautiful, big birds – missing. When searching they found about 20 chickens in the long grass dazed and few close to death.

I felt as if a cold hand had grabbed my heart. Not another false start, I thought. This time I came very close to consulting isangoma -traditional seer- to find out why my farming ventures are stymied everytime they are about to take off. But I decided to go the conventional way of reporting to the police and going to notorious spots where everything is sold and bought.

I have a suspicion that the cops thought we had smoked something when we gave the description of knee-high chickens that weighed the same as small turkeys. No cop went looking for oversized chickens. Late in the day we heard about big chickens going for R30 each behind some shop. R30 for chickens that I had fed and nurtured for six months! I was livid and this time was ready to give up on farming for good. I was saved only by fantasies of casting a spell and driving the thieves so mad that they had delusions of being chased by oversized, talking chickens.
I did not lose hope and settled for raising day-olds like most small farmers. Ngashona khona.