I’ve spent my entire life in South Africa—in Julesburg, which is in the Limpopo Province in the northernmost part of the country. I had a long career as a nurse, but after I retired in 2003, I decided to take up farming, primarily because I had access to 28 hectares (nearly 70 acres) of land.
When I first started, I farmed on just less than half a hectare of land because it seemed too difficult to take on more and still be successful. For one, I had very little knowledge of crop management. I also ran into irrigation issues because I didn’t have access to a sophisticated system. Eventually, with the government’s support, I was able to irrigate seven hectares, but I still wasn’t sure how I could maximize the effectiveness of my land and learn new farming techniques. At that time, I was selling my produce to the local market. The idea of selling anywhere else was not practical because of high transport costs and the cost of packaging materials.
That was until summer of 2012 when, along with 66 other farmers, I began working with Massmart’s Ezemvelo Direct Farm Programme, which helps farmers in three South Africa regions—KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and Limpopo—through training, mentoring, and technical assistance, while also providing them with access to financing and retail placement. This program is part of a broader plan to increase the number of local suppliers Massmart (Walmart’s Sub-Saharan African retailer) supports, as well as source 30 percent of the fresh produce it gets in South Africa from small and medium local farmers.
Through the programme, I have a farmer mentor from an organization called Technoserve, who has shared with me techniques that have given me the confidence to plant on my seven hectares and grow produce such as green beans, butternut squash, tomatoes, dry beans, and green peppers. The programme has also helped me expand my network to reach suppliers; in fact, I will soon be supplying various types of vegetables to Cambridge Food and Game Foodco stores through Massfresh, Massmart’s fresh produce division.
Because of this programme, I’m confident that within a year I’ll be able to run my farm independently. But better yet, now I know that I’m part of a community of farmers and customers who will be there to help me if I need it along the way.