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Magalela from the land – Some do leave off farming

November 11, 2012

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

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