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Matatiele farmer reaps reward of a dream come true

In David Mongoato’s office is a picture of himself as a small child, standing in a field of tall, ripe maize plants. He knew than that he wanted to be a farmer. But the path to your destiny is seldom a straight one.

David and his wife Selloane worked as teachers for many years before he was able to return to the rich Eastern Cape soil that he loves. The Mongoatos now run a thriving 947-hectare maize farm near Matatiele, with the Drakensberg and the Lesotho border nearby. The farm was acquired by the State as part of its land reform process.

But simply having access to land doesn’t make you a successful commercial farmer. A loan from the Masisizane Fund allowed the purchase of crucial equipment such as farm implements, as well as providing start-up capital for them and 14 other emerging farmers in the area. The fund is a non-profit company established from unclaimed shares by the Old Mutual Group in 2007, in consultation with National Treasury. It lends development finance, with a key focus on improving the sustainability of small businesses.

The Mongoatos’ farm is at the core of a partnership of 15 farms, which share some resources, such as silos where maize can be stored until prices improve. It’s a cluster of small operators whose enterprises are independently owned but they work together to get contracts. They can build a support structure of services to keep income in their community rather than having to contract and so lose revenue, explains David.

Caption: Daniel Chabana, field officer for the Masisizane Fund, with farmer David Mongoato.Picture credit: Benna Carroll

So far it’s working well: “I’m running out of arable land so I may need to lease land to plant more maize,” he says. He adds that the farm now has a piggery and plans are afoot to reopen the dairy, which Mogoato says could initially provide much-needed nutrition to local schools. It could then become a commercial undertaking and the Mogoatos would have a fully-fledged mixed-farming operation. 

But the farmer with a lifelong love of the land has a longer view than that: another tractor would help meet the farms’ year-round needs, from preparing soil, to planting, spraying, fire-prevention, maintenance of farm roads and so on. There’s clear evidence of the need for the latter, with many farm roads in the area virtually impassable in the wet summer months. Better roads mean better access to markets, with benefits to the entire community and the rural and national economy. 

David adds: “Most of my profit goes to hiring a combine harvester and they’re in such demand that there’s a waiting-list. Getting finance for one would make sense. We’d hire it out and it would pay for itself pretty quickly, plus the farmers in the area would get their crops in quicker.” 

He says growing the farm is a challenge, but one he loves: “This doesn’t feel like hard work when you’re doing what you love. It’s demanding, but there’s the thrill of planting and making what you planted grow, and seeing it turn into something you can sell. It provides for you and your family and creates jobs and dignity in your community.” 

Does he miss teaching? In a way, he hasn’t left it: he mentors other emerging farmers in the area and he has a succession plan in place for the family, with the couple’s four children working on the farm during holidays, donning gumboots and learning to farm. David can treasure other pictures now: one of him surrounded by nearly 800ha of maize, all of it taller than him; others, of the harvested maize pouring into a silo like amber rain, of workers weighing and sealing bags of it, ready to be trucked away.  

Daniel Chabana, field officer for the Masisizane Fund, says: “The 15 farms working together gives them some economic muscle and voice in local affairs. It’s completely in line with the fund’s mandates of employment creation, poverty eradication and reduction of inequality and contribution to economic growth.” 

The Masisizane Fund has a strong focus is on women, youth and the disabled, particularly in economically depressed parts of the country: rural and peri-urban areas and townships. It was established as a Section 21 company following the closure of the Old Mutual Unclaimed Shares Trust in August 2006 and aims to contribute towards the economic transformation of South Africa.

Source: Meropa Communications