I was born and bred in Umlazi and growing up in the township gave us little exposure to farming. Considering this now, it’s obvious to point that township houses are crammed into little spaces with no room to plant.
It was worse at school as we did agriculture without no exposure to crops, soil etc. But I remember fondly one time we disected a chicken to understand its digestive system. Our teachers were so innovative in presenting agriculture it further spontaneously ignited my interest in the subject.
Owen Sithole College of Agriculture (OSCA) beckoned and I received a bursary from the (Sugar Industry Trust Fund. A lot happened during those days, having to de-register at Mangosuthu University of Technology where I was already accepted for another course before OSCA replied.
As youth, we always look down on agricultural colleges and I’d be lying if I said I ever had problems during my 3-year diploma (Crop Production). I passed all my modules until 3rd year. Infact, I felt that college was a lot easier than high school. I can say that I held no regrets for choosing OSCA as it gave me excellent exposure to agriculture.
After college, the normal process every youth gets to experience of job hunting begun. Situation back at home was causing me to panic as my mother was still unemployed. Fortunately, I found out about Future Farmers Foundation. While I was waiting to be accepted or not in the programme, I started selling vetkooks, fried chips and other fast food items at a local spaza shop. For a while, I was the joke the town but as hard as it was, I did not foresight of my goal.
Five months after my interview with Future Farmers they finally called to inform me about a community project that was based in iXopo which matched what I had asked for – nursery. I then relocated to iXopo (Centocow) where I was going to facilitate a Rabbit Farming project. As excited as I was my nerves overwhelmed me again – what did I know about rabbits? Nothing!
The project was mainly about rabbit farming but it also included a seedling nursery and permaculture gardens. Basically, we had to produce vegetable seedlings for the project members (a group of 20) and other community members so that they can plant food for the rabbits and for home consumption. We also taught them how to plant and maintain permaculture gardens.
We had to teach the project members every detail from handling, feeding, breeding, record keeping and other things that they need to know to maintain their rabbits. The project went on for a good solid year and it was such an amazing experience, enough for me to handle my own rabbit farm someday.
After the end of the project, I joined the KZN Department of Agriculture as a graduate and I was then placed in a cattle farm in Pietermaritzburg, Boston. The farm was underdevelopment but as soon as there was progress and we settled in; my employer found me another farm specialising in crops.
At the new farm in Howick, we planted different types of vegetables such cucumbers, tomatoes, swiss chard, butternuts, squashes, spring onions, chillies, salad rocket and herbs (sage, parsely, catnip and other things). Not only were these sold fresh from the garden but some were processed into things like Tri-Colour Pesto (processed tomatoes, basil leaves and feta).
I felt the need to pen this letter to our youth especially those residing in townships. Nobody will tell you this, but agriculture was a way-out of poverty and unemployment.
My believe is that if this generation were to be given land, and be food secure for the next generation, it should be mandatory to attend an agricultural college. Farming is not easy; it is a passion cultivated over time and agri-colleges can greatly assist.
I might not have a farm of my own at the moment but one of these few years it shall come to pass and will manage one.
By Nompumelelo Duma
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Mzansi Agriculture Talk or its members.