BBL PARTICIPANT: Phemelo Rammutla, Khutsong, North West
In a Nutshell
Phemelo Rammutla lives in Khutsong, outside Carletonville. Through her participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, she has added to her horticulture knowledge. Her fruit and vegetable enterprise is thriving and she knows how she wants to grow her businesses.
She donates to food insecure elderly people in her community and is always available to support and guide new farmers.
I see my farming life as a series of lessons which gradually built up over time. My first lessons were when I was a little girl with my lovely mother in Itsoseng township, Mahikeng, North West. She had a small vegetable and flower garden in our yard. I used to help her with that garden. She loved those flowers with all her heart. It was from her that I learnt that intense love of gardening.
My mother was Keeditse Fanny Rammutla. When I was born she was Modutwane (so that is my maiden surname) but my father passed on in 1979 and my mother subsequently married into the Rammutla family. Years later I also married into that family - my father in-law and my step father are brothers – hence, the shared surname.
Loving plants is the base but farming is also a business. I learnt that side of farming from my grandmother, Mme Kentse Mary Sebate. When I was a child I would go and visit her in the holidays. In the early years she was a domestic worker but then she left her job and over time she became a small-scale farmer in Lotlhakane Village in Mahikeng, North West. She had sheep and free-range chickens. She also grew and sold vegetables. My grandmother farmed vegetables and as children in the household, we assisted. It was a wonderful environment, I enjoyed working and playing with the soil. Looking back, I can see that those days with my grandmother were very influential. They were valuable lessons in farming. It was there that I first understood and experienced as a girl child that farming could become business.
The strength of the family unit is another important life lesson. When I got married, my late husband and I lived on a farm just outside Mahikeng in a place called Rooigrond. We had peaches and grapes, beetroot, carrots, spinach, onions, lettuce and cabbages as well as livestock. There were free-range chickens, sheep, goats and cattle – it was lovely. We supplied the local fresh produce stores. That was where I expanded my knowledge of how the business of farming works.
My late father in-law Motlotle Lucas Rammutla was a commercial farmer in the former Bophuthatswana. He farmed maize, sorghum (mabele), sunflower, and a variety of livestock being cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. My parents-in-law had 8 children, 3 boys and 5 girls. As his children in the family, including sons- and daughters-in-law, we all had our own livestock in his cattle post. In 1997, my husband and I relocated to Pretoria with our four children, but almost every weekend we would travel home and assist the old man with various activities on the farm.
No farmer can survive without learning about patience. Those memories of us all working together on my in-laws’ farm are very special me. My hope is that one day I will farm with my own children again. I know that my children would love that too. Right now, each one has their own journey to take so as to establish their own lives, but they support my endeavours continuously and I hope that one day we will be working together again. Patience is a lesson that all farmers need to learn. One day, the time will be right and that will happen.
Not all lessons are easy to learn. Some are intensely difficult. In the year 2000, my husband passed away and I had to find ways to earn a living and support our kids, so I explored and operated my own construction business. Even then, the idea of farming kept appearing in my mind. Like I said, I don’t come from Khutsong, and for a long time I had no connection to this area. My first link to Carletonville came with a pastor in our ministry. He came from Carletonville and I used to chat with him a lot. He shared with me that he has some farming fields in Khutsong. Those conversations did not amount to anything at first but over time the seed of an idea of farming in that area kept coming back to me.
Our pastor passed on to glory after some time. After his passing I enquired about the fields from his wife. I learned from her that their sons were not interested in farming except their daughter. So, I offered to help her. We worked together on their fields and later I started looking for a field for myself and she helped me to find one.
Some lessons you learn from other people and some come from books. There were so many lessons in those early days in Khutsong. I didn't know much about this kind of farming. Yes, I had worked the land before, but this land is so different. I used to go to the library to look for information. My main crop is spinach, I started there because I needed something that could be in continuous production. I think, over time, one of the biggest lessons I have learnt is a profound respect for the environment. The more I read books I became more concerned about the environment. So, one of the books that I got from the library encouraged me to make nature to work for me. And to understand the important benefits of using organic materials which improve the quality and the condition of the soil.
I did a lot of research to understand the difference between using chemicals and natural resources. The important benefit of adding organic matter in the soil, is that they contain all the food plant that will provide our communities with healthy and nutritious food. I use manure from poultry and animals, because these are extremely important for the soil and even for the environment. In 2012, I got an opportunity through God’s grace to supply Choppies Supermarket with spinach and cabbage. I think that part of the reason why they were impressed with my product, was that the organic way of working was creating lovely results.
When I came across SocioTech and Umsizi in 2018, it was a true gift sent from God because it allowed me to put all my life lessons together and see the patterns within them. I had the foundations of working the organic way from the library books but meeting the people from SocioTech and Umsizi really gave me that extra push. My initial contact was through my friend Martha Mnisi. She went to a training then came back and told me about it. I was horrified. I said to her, "How could you go without me?" I made her promise that she would tell me the next time there was a training and she was true to her word.
Since then there have been so many lessons learnt! The wonderful thing is that these new SocioTech lessons fit with what I was gradually growing towards in my life journey up to this point. Through them I learnt about making trenches and their benefits of working the soil well because the particle size has a great influence on the moisture-holding capacity of the soil. All that adds to my previous love of organic farming that came from the library years. I love all my new knowledge of garden layouts and the skills relating to mulching which also add humus to the soil. I really appreciate all the recipes for making natural remedies to repel pests.
"Since then there have been so many lessons learnt!"
SocioTech has helped me learn lessons in areas that I am not naturally strong. Through Mr Mohale Matsuma and Mr Sicelo Khumalo I learnt about planning finances, sales, savings, expenses and so forth. Those lessons have been a major eye opener because through them I have realized my weaknesses. I still have many lessons to learn in that area. I struggle with record keeping and budgeting. However, even in these areas, I feel that I am growing in confidence and skill and I am moving in the right direction.
My learning journey is not over. I have short, medium and long-term goals for my farming. In the short term I am focused on nurturing the crops that I have and cultivating my existing fields to their maximum potential. For medium term, I would love to expand my farming with the introduction of poultry. In the long term my desire is to be a large-scale commercial farmer. I am praying to God for an opportunity to have land and a suitable mentor to guide me to that ultimate objective. There will always be challenges. Right now, mine are markets, capital and electricity. There are always wishes and dreams. I would so love to have a solar system in my plot to solve the power problem. I would love to have a broiler structure for chickens. The great thing is how dreams can be translated into reality through striving and hard working. I am also very grateful that my hard work is backed up by the SocioTech fieldworkers and my lovely children and family. Together we can make it.
The point about learning is that it should be shared. If you learn and that makes you a better farmer then you need to give produce to the needy. I have a special place in my heart for needy elderly people and I will always share what I produce with such people. Sharing is caring and blessed is the hand that gives. The other way that learning can be shared is through teaching and encouraging others on their own farming journeys. I always try to help whoever needs any kind of assistance or information. They need to understand that farming is difficult at the start, but lessons will be learnt and with the right commitment positive results will come. Helping others bring me much joy and fulfilment.