Making an effort pays off

Grace Moraitje, Wilhelmina Bingwa and Sara Legoshe from Modderrivier in the Northern Cape won the province’s Female Farmer of the Year 2008 Competition in the category for Top Food Producer: National Markets. They have established themselves as successful crop farmers and put their success down to their love of the land, hard work and helping hands. Now they have a future and can secure a decent living for themselves and their children, all the while contributing to food security and combating poverty, writes Annelie Coleman.
Issue date: 21 November 2008

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Annelie Coleman

The Northern Cape Female Farmers of the Year 2008 are proud of their achievement. They inherited a neglected farm without any infrastructure in the Drie Plotte Farming Project outside Modderrivier in the Oranje-Riet Irrigation Scheme and built up a profitable business. “Government allocated the land to us in 2002 and we’ve been leasing it for R12 000 a year with an option to buy. Our long-term goal is to buy it as soon as we can afford it,” says Wilhelmina Bingwa. She and her partners were friends long before they moved to Modderrivier in 2002.

They initially farmed with their husbands near Ritchie. When they heard that the government had made land available for emerging farmers within the Oranje-Riet Irrigation Scheme, they immediately applied. T he land was duly allocated and they moved to Drie Plotte soon afterwards, accompanied by their families, while the men continued farming in Ritchie

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Unrealistic expectations “We don’t shy away from physical labour and worked the land ourselves from the very first day,” Grace Moraitje explains. Wilhelmina adds, “Often people who are given land start to farm with unrealistic expectations. think it is a get-rich-quick scheme and don’t realise that it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and determination. Also, in many cases, too many people settle on one piece of land, limiting their chances of being successful. A nd then there are those people who are given the opportunity to farm, but know nothing about it.” O ne of the reasons for their success is that they made a point of educating themselves and attended as many training opportunities as possible such as workshops and farmers’ days and they continue to do so. major challenge for Wilhelmina, Grace and Sara has been overcoming the scepticism from male counterparts. Grace remembers the first time she went to pay the rent. “The gentleman at the bank had the audacity to ask me where I got the money from,” she says. “And I was very proud to tell him that we are female farmers and we earned it ourselves.”

Helping hands and tidy profits
The government initially prepared the first 30ha for the ladies and they planted cotton and maize, but their first cotton harvest was destroyed by a hailstorm. They also encountered technical problems with the planting of the maize but still harvested 7t/ha. Their first wheat harvest was 5t/ha. Those days are long gone now and Drie Plotte has evolved into a sustainable and profitable business. The three ladies cultivate 45ha of maize, wheat, cotton and lucerne on a rotation basis under flood irrigation. “Our turnover is R300 000 per annum, but we could not have done it without the support from the agriculture department and GWK, an agribusiness in the Northern Cape that helped us with planning, risk management, financing and technical support.

We now market our entire crop through GWK and are particularly grateful to training coordinator Edwin Groeners and agronomist Piet Bosman for their assistance,” says Grace. She says their neighbours’ support has also been encouraging. “Not only has their constant advice been invaluable, but they also help us whenever we struggle. One of the commercial farmers regularly lends his tractor and planter to us. We are grateful for the interest from the commercial farmers and they have been instrumental in our success.” The women struggled with a shortage of implements in the beginning and had to depend on contractors to work the land for them. This was eventually solved when the government donated several implements to them. “The government gave us a tractor in 2005, followed by a range of implements including a ripper, baler and a plough,” says Wilhelmina.

“We bought a bakkie each and we are currently saving up to buy an additional tractor. A portion of the R50 000 we won in the Female Farmer of the Year Competition will be used to repair our old tractor.” From emerging to commercial Grace says they have made farming their lives and being farmers is who they are. Their immediate goal is to buy the land they’re farming on. “And who knows, maybe one day we will even be able to buy some additional land? The fact that we won the category for Food Producers: National Markets, has given us an enormous boost for the future. We want to become fully-fledged commercial farmers and winning the competition has motivated us to become even better at what we do.

” GWK’s Piet Bosman comments that the award was well-deserved. “Grace, Sara and Wilhelmina didn’t know anything about crop production under irrigation when they first settled on Drie Plotte, but they were dedicated, motivated and open to new ideas. It’s been a pleasure to help them with all aspects of their business. They have also seen the value of attending workshops and training sessions and completed several courses including in irrigation, mechanics and financial planning.” Grace says that as with any new business, there were difficult times, but the important thing is that they were able to pull through.

 “Hard work is the secret to success and we are proud that we now have a sustainable business and are guaranteeing our children’s future and financial independence. We also have peace of mind because we know there will be food on the table and a roof over our heads. We are contributing to food security and have helped combat poverty by creating additional jobs.” Contact Wilhelmina Bingwa, Grace Moraitje or Sara Legoshe on 079 67 09 222. |fw