Leadership skills. A passion for farming. A determination to be the best. These have seen Zabion de Wee win a one-year paid internship with the National Wool Growers’ Association (NWGA) in Bloemfontein, awarded by the agriculture department.
“I believe an important part of leadership is to ask questions and seek advice,” says 22-year-old Zabion, who graduated from Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute (GADI) last year. “That’s why, wherever I find myself, I always seek out a mentor.”
His mentor at Grootfontein was small-stock lecturer Hans Greeff. “He taught me discipline and to strive for the best, which is very important in farming,” says Zabion.
At Grootfontein, Zabion discovered a passion for Angoras. He and seven other students took on Angoras as their mini-farm project, and together ran a 400-Angora stud, one of which is a world champion ram named Skoongesig.
Ultimately, Zabion longs to farm with Angoras in Free State “to prove that Free State can be just as suitable for Angoras as Eastern and Southern Cape”.
“I want to compete with the big farmers there and prove that Angoras are easy to farm if your management is right. Farmers always talk about how they die so easily in the cold, but if you see a cold front coming, then you need to put them into sheds and feed them until the weather improves.
“I want to prove that if you manage them effectively, Angoras can be suitable for all conditions, and offer a good moneymaking opportunity,” he says. What does concern him about farming is the loneliness of the lifestyle for a young man.
“I do think about the isolation on a farm where you arrive home at night, take a shower, do your admin and then you’re alone,” he says. Fortunately his girlfriend Maud Sebelebele shares his passion for farming. Maud graduated with Zabion from GADI, and is currently studying further in Port Elizabeth.
“She managed the Drakensberger mini-farm at Grootfontein, and I really admired how she would walk for kilometres with the cattle, and how she believes in hard work. It would really be great if we could farm together one day,” he says.
For now, though, he’s focusing on his internship, which runs until the end of this year.
The NWGA seeks to increase the profitability of wool sheep farming and assist with new farmer development. Thanks to the Association, Zabion has once again found a mentor, NWGA agricultural field advisor Jan-Louis Venter.
“He’s taught me so much about the theory and practice of wool sheep farm management – from fleece inspection to identifying diseases to checking the water, grazing and fences,” says Zabion. “We work with commercial, communal and emerging farmers every day, and are trying to educate communal farmers in better livestock management practices.” He believes a major stumbling block in emerging farmer advancement is the fact that the government is “giving people fish instead of teaching them how to fish”.
Many of the emerging farmers that he and Jan-Louis try to help are not responsive, he explains. “They look to the government for everything. They’re not prepared to get stuck in and go the extra mile themselves. It really frustrates me because the one or two guys we assist who are putting in the effort are really making progress,” he says.
Zan Jacobs, a vegetable farmer, for example, managed to pay off his farm in five years as part of a land reform programme.
“He’s a dynamic person with all the willpower to do what he wants to do and he’s willing to learn,” says Zabion. “He now wants to diversify into sheep and cattle, and we’re helping him draw up a business plan.” Jan-Louis says working with Zabion has been a pleasure. “He’s a fast learner, and has good drive and a good vision of where he wants to be,” he explains.
Zabion has applied to the Free State University of Technology in Bloemfontein to do a degree in animal production and agricultural management next year. “After that I’d like to do my Master’s degree in Angoras,” he says.
“My biggest role models when I was growing up were my mother, grandmother and aunt. My mother proved to me that one can achieve anything. She used to work in a funeral parlour, then one day she started her own funeral parlour and she made a success of it.”
In the same way, Zabion realised he didn’t need to be the person at the back of the farmer’s bakkie – he could have his own bakkie and his own farm one day. “My goal in studying is to ask questions and to try to find new and better alternatives to existing agricultural practices,” he says. “I believe in changing ideas and practices for the better, not just keeping to the same old ways because that’s how things have always been done.”
Contact Zabion on 071 554 8439 or email [email protected]
As part of his internship, Zabion works with emerging wool farmers.
COURTESY OF NWGA