BBL PARTICIPANT: Elizabeth Moraswi, Strydkraal, Sekhukhune, Limpopo
In a Nutshell
Through her participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, Elizabeth Moraswi from Strydkraal has...
I grew up in poverty. When I was 18, I had a dream. In that dream I would see myself walking along the street and I would see money on the ground and when I picked up one piece of money, another one comes, and when I pick that one up, again another one comes. I had that dream over and over. Then when I was 19 years old, I went to Krugersdorp and got a job working on a vegetable farm. I only worked there for one year, after which I worked on a tomato plantation at Lepellane. I knew then that I loved farming, but both of those jobs were on other people’s farms, because my family had no land.
Then in 1988 I got married in Strydkraal. The family that I married into have a piece of land that belongs to them and, because of the love and the dream of being a farmer, I continued farming on this piece of land. Over time people in the community noticed my skills, knowledge and love for farming and I was nominated, and then appointed as the community farming chairperson. During my time as chairperson five cooperatives were formed. The cooperatives were called; Ikageng Ga-Masha cooperative, Mmabokotswane primary co-op, Strydkraal primary co-op, Mooiplaas primary co-op and Lengwai primary co-op. Later we formed Leikamamos secondary cooperative which was a combination of the five primary cooperatives. I was appointed as the chairperson for that cooperative too.
During the time of the secondary cooperative, the Department of Agriculture gave us R24 million to develop 300 hectares with 14 center pivot irrigation system. We had a strategic partner, Arthur Creighton. I had a plan to develop a further 400 hectares and create a milling factory to process the wheat and maize we were producing into flour and maize meal. The dream was that by doing this we could ensure that all the community members would fully benefit from farming. The problem was that with cooperatives there are always too many people with too many visions.
"The problem was that with cooperatives there are always too many people with too many visions."
Also, most of the people who join are there for the sake of receiving money without the love and passion for agriculture. People will never have the same attitude or same intension. Some of us go into farming not just because there is no other place we can go, but simply because it is what we love, and what we understand. It was those divisions that caused the project problems. That’s where things start to fall apart. Agriculture is kind of gambling - there is a time of loss and there is a time for profits - same as other businesses, but to some people they don’t understand, they only look for profits without the understanding and the love. Those conflicts are hard to manage in a cooperative.
An example of people having different visions and commitment is the rainwater harvesting tanks. In 2009/2010 there was a program of rainwater harvesting tanks, Marna built 3 and they worked so well that the Department of Agriculture gave funding to built 50 more. The problem was that people were given all the materials to build for themselves. Some people did it well and their tanks were good quality and even now they are still working fine without cracks or leakages. Others did the job poorly and those poor-quality tanks didn’t last long. What you put into a job determines what you get out.
When the co-operatives started to hit those challenges of people with different visions, my family decided to leave and continue farming on our own. First, we went to Lebowakgomo Makotse village where I was farming on a small scale (about 2 hectares of land), producing vegetables that we supply to hawkers and Spar supermarket. When we started to do well, we decided to come back to Strydkraal and continue our farming here. At first, we were farming in our backyard (that is about 1 hectare) and then we expanded onto the land that my husband’s family had. That land is about 3.5 hectares, close to the river and the canals. Financial challenges mean that so far, we have managed to plant about 2 hectares of the 3.5. We call that project Nko-Lenga Development Project – the name comes from the blending of the two names of me and my husband. We are Nkotsane and Lengana and together we are Nko-Lenga. From the success of these family projects, we have managed to buy about 15 cattle as we want to venture into animal production as our next project.
As a family, our talent and love is for farming. I am responsible for operations in general, and my husband is responsible for watering. The young ones are responsible for applying chemicals to the plants, harvesting, and delivering.
Even though there are a lot of challenges in farming, we are all committed, and we keep going even on difficult days. Farming is like gambling, sometimes we win while other times we lose. For people who don’t have that love they quickly give up when they meet difficulties, but this family remains strong. We know that we are building a legacy to share with the young ones. Even after we have gone, we know that no one will suffer because they have the skill of turning soil into food.
Even my grandchild prefers to go with us into the field than playing with her peers. I appreciate her presence, as I want her to learn early and to acquire this skill.
I think the trickiest thing about this farming business is to apply your brains more frequently and keep on applying corrective measures time and again, as plants are like human beings – if you take too much time to address or fight the issue it will lead to your loss.
There is lot of money to generate for those who work hard and have creative ways of thinking. As a family we know this. My little granddaughter watches us work and works with us and she knows this, even though she is still young. She also understands that farming is not only about what happens in the fields. The most vital thing to be considered as a farmer is not only to produce, but also ensuring your documentation is perfect, because if the documentation is not good, sometimes you might run into a loss without knowing it. I know most people think that when you’re farming paperwork is not that vital, but it is. Keeping records is the key thing that allows for an effective operation, and that will lead to success.
It is keeping records that allows a business to show what it can do. For instance, when the local mall opened, the Department of Agriculture and the municipality insisted that local small business must be among the suppliers for the shops inside the mall. This created an opportunity for farmers to supply huge retail chains and a big supermarket.
Because our work was good and our papers were in order, the agriculture officer recommended us to Spar. It is not easy to meet the demands of retail chains like Spar - their requirements include lots of certificates and some of those are difficult and expensive to acquire, but step-by-step we are getting there and continue to apply so that we can comply with all their requirements. At the moment we supply about 300 cabbages to Spar twice a week. We keep pushing - hopefully one day we will be able to produce even larger amounts. We still have more open land that can be developed once we have the financials in place.
Sometimes I get home so tired that I can’t even cook, but it is worth the effort. I look back to that 18-year-old with that dream. That girl has become a woman pushing 60 years of age who can feed her family and meet most of her needs.
I believe that my farming is not only for me and my family. Strydkraal is a rural area, and most of the people living here are poor. Vegetables like cabbage are very expensive. And there are expenses involved in travelling long distances to get fresh vegetables. In town cabbages cost about R18 each while hawkers sell them for R25 - that is way too expensive, so producing fresh vegetables close to where people live not only generates income but helps people in my community to save on the cost of food and transport.
On my journey I have met a lot of people such as teachers and policemen who have changed and become farmers, but I have never seen any famer swap into becoming a teacher. Farming is permanent. Once you have land for farming, no one will ever take it from you. With those other professions you have to retire at a certain age, but farming and land are forever.