Harvesting against the odds

2010-03-20 14:54

EMERGING farmer Zovuyo Ngejane is on a mission to shred the

perception that black people are wimps when it comes to farming.

This commercial farmer, who is based in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal,

owns successful agricultural enterprises in an industry largely dominated by

whites.


“There is a wrong perception that black people cannot farm. The

reality is that there are a few black farmers who can farm, but they need

­support,” says Ngejane, who holds a National Diploma in Animal Production from

the Mangosuthu University of Technology.


Figures are sketchy on how many black commercial farmers there are

in the country, but the mouthpiece for black farmers, the National ­African

Farmers Union of SA, says it has 20?000 members who are ­commercial or communal

farmers.


Since 2003, Ngejane (33) has been doing contract farming for

state-owned rural development agencies and commercial farmers in the Eastern

Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.


Last year he purchased a beef and sheep farm in Cedarville, a town

bordering the two provinces. The 1?000 hectares farm, the size of 2 000 soccer

pitches, is home to his 600 cattle and 1?600 sheep.


He also owns a smallholding farm in Kokstad, where he keeps his

fleet of tractors, harvesters, discs, planters, rippers and ploughs.


Ngejane has had his fair share of disappointments. Two years ago he

tried unsuccessfully to buy three ­adjacent farms in KwaZulu-Natal for R26

million.

The farms would have given him a chance to become a serious commercial

farmer. The deal fell apart after the government failed to pump in R10 million

to make the transaction possible.


“I was going to put down R16?million from my own pocket and bank

loans.


“I had wanted government to ­contribute R10?million to the deal,

but the department of agriculture and land affairs rejected my application,” he

says.


To this day, Ngejane does not ­understand why the government did

not assist him as it has previously helped other blacks to resettle on prime

agricultural land.


“Most of the land that has been given to black people is not

productive. The problem is that the government is unable to identify black

farmers with potential. I wanted to prove that black people can farm

productively and profitably,” he says.


Although Ngejane is running a successful business today, he started

from the bottom of the farming pyramid. After completing his studies, he worked

for three farmers who taught him a lot.


“I was getting paid R250 a month plus a bag of mealie meal,” he

says.


These days, Ngejane is a neighbour of the farmers who employed him

during his apprenticeship.


He got his break in 2004 when he got involved in the Massive Food

Programme, a failed attempt by the Eastern Cape government to revive unused

arable fields in the former Transkei area. And he hasn’t looked back

since.


“When this programme started I got a loan from the Uvimba Bank to

buy four tractors.


“At the time, a tractor cost R350?000, but today it sells for just

less than R1?million,” says Ngejane who now owns 24 tractors and does mechanised

contract farming for Asgisa-Eastern Cape, which has taken over the

responsibility of ­rejuvenating food production in the former Transkei.


“There is not a lot of money in farming these days. I make a lot

more from contract farming.


The production costs are high, but the prices for the farm produce

are low.


“For example, in September last year, I sold a kilogramme of lamb

(slaughtered weight) for R24, but the same kilogramme was being sold at

­supermarkets for more than R70,” Ngejane says.


Apart from battling lower prices, he has also had to put up with a

drought.


“If you don’t have irrigation you lose out. I am crossing my

fingers for the rain to come.”

 

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