Image: Linda Nghatsane showing some of the spinach grown under her shade netting system. The shade netting was sewed by hand from cuttings. She uses upside-down Coke bottles as a drip system.
Photo credit: Photos: Chris Louw
Linda Nghatsane is someone who sees opportunity in hard work. Sound financial planning, good farming practices and a lot of sweat and tears have finally paid off for this former nurse. Chris Louw visited her on her small farm near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga.
When Linda Nghatsane bought the small farm De Hoop in Croc Valley near Nelspruit in February 2004, there was no access road, no electricity, no borehole; in short, no developments whatsoever – only bush. Two and a half years later, in September this year, Linda was selected the Female Farmer of the Year in a countrywide competition arranged by the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, and Absa.
A lot has happened in the years since the farm was acquired. The 10,7ha plot now houses three huge chicken pens (with another three being built); two structures for the cultivation of oyster mushrooms; a large shade netting system (sewed together by hand) under which vegetables are planted; and a brick and mortar office building. In addition to this, there is a brick-making facility providing all the bricks used to build the infrastructure.
Conspicuous by its absence is a house. The fact that there is no residence is typical of Linda’s businesslike approach to farming. “We wanted the enterprise to become profitable as soon as possible,” she says while we’re sipping cold drinks in the office on De Hoop. “It was essential to focus on the basics and not on luxuries.”
Focusing on the basics meant that Linda and her husband, Johnson, a consultant, often slept over in the office on mattresses in the beginning years, with only newspapers covering the windows. Although they have a house in Nelspruit, where they still live, they were often forced to work from dawn until after sunset to make their dreams come true.
The couple bought the farm without government assistance in a commercial transaction. Slashing was done by hand with the assistance of four temporary workers. With the help of a German friend, a borehole was sunk supplying 2 000 litres of water an hour through a submersible pump. The exercise cost Linda R36 000. For more than a year, all watering of plants was done through gravitation.
First a generator was used to power the pump, and in April last year Eskom power was connected at a cost of R6 000. For the first time a geyser could be installed. “Until then we took our showers in terribly cold water,” Linda remembers.
Recently, Eskom mistakenly cut her electricity, resulting in some crop damage. Eskom has offered to pay for the damage, but Linda says, “I’m not impressed at all. I’ve not once skipped paying my electricity account. This is unacceptable.”
The dedication and hard work have paid off handsomely. After attending a course in the oyster mushroom cultivation at the Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Linda built her first mushroom hut in traditional African style with bush and grass selected from the surroundings. The second hut was built with modern material. She is now teaching rural people to supplement their diets with oyster mushrooms, and is thrilled at how popular the food has become.
Teaching comes naturally for Linda. As a trained health practitioner with a master’s degree in public health, she is a board member of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership and Support, an organisation caring for orphaned and vulnerable children. She provides training for HIV/Aids counsellors who are volunteers for Africare, a non-profit organisation addressing food security, agriculture, health and Aids across Africa.
The name of her farming enterprise reflects her approach to life: Abundant
Life Skills cc.
Chicken farming a charm
One thing she didn’t need to teach locals in the Nelspruit district was the skill of chicken consumption. In fact, the chicken component is the biggest success on her farm. She has three poultry houses. In the largest house she rears 3 500 chickens, and in the other two 2 500 and 2 000 respectively.
The chickens have proved so popular that hawkers come and collect them at 38 days of age. Most of the chickens are sold alive, saving on processing and refrigeration costs, and providing a handsome profit.
Linda has meanwhile secured the assistance of the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture. The department is, through its Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme, providing a borehole and three more poultry pens that will more than double the output, ensuring that Linda will have chickens available more consistently. The department is also erecting an electric fence around the farm at its own cost.
Although her vegetable operation is still on the level of subsistence farming, Linda last year attended the Farmer’s Weekly and Manstrat hydroponics course and plans to apply the principles as soon as funds are available. In the meantime, it comes as no surprise to hear that all vegetables that are not sold are donated to the SOS Children’s Home in Nelspruit. Because in spite of her dreams of becoming a fully-fledged commercial farmer, Linda Nghatsane is first and foremost a caretaker – someone who knows how to work hard, handle sound financial administration, keep farm records, follow disciplined marketing strategies, and produce good sales, before giving back to the community much of what she accrues.
The Female Farmer of the Year contest started in 1999 to acknowledge the contribution women make in the agricultural sector. It aims to address the issues of poverty, unemployment, hunger, social responsibility and economic growth.
“Many people don’t recognise an opportunity when it comes their way because it looks too much like hard work,” Linda stated when receiving her R65 000 price money from agriculture minister Lulama Xingwana at a glittering ceremony in Durban . Linda is living proof of someone who sees hard work as an opportunity to better her own life and those of others around her.
Problems she refers to as “challenges”. And her motto: “To turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.”
Contact Linda Nghatsane on 082 377 1026 or 084 577 1026. |fw