With frustration increasing over the slow pace of land reform and emerging farmer projects failing everywhere, Fanyana Jacob Sibeko established a successful
Santa Gertrudis stud without handouts. His only encounter with government loan structures puzzled him because of their lack of support, writes Lloyd Phillips.
According to some, food security is threatened by government’s policy of handing out massive tracts of prime agricultural land and billions of rand of taxpayers’ money in condition-free grant funding to almost every previously disadvantaged individual who applies.
Historically, South Africa has been recognised as food secure, and this is crucial to pulling us up to the status of a developed rather than a developing country.
Casting some more doubt on government policy is successful black farmer Fanyana Jacob Sibeko. Instead of accessing a grant to expand his established enterprise, he took a loan instead. Although it was from government-lending institution Mpumalanga Agricultural Development Corporation, he argues government grants could be better spent. To illustrate, just down the road from one of his leased farms, a supposed community apple production project is half-finished and stands vacant, with only R2 million of the original R9 million grant having been used. The remaining R7 million appears to have vanished.
“It makes me angry that government money supposed to be used to promote sustainable emerging agriculture is being given to people who don’t want to farm, or goes into the pockets of corrupt individuals,” says Jacob.
A proven track record
Originally from the Standerton area of Mpumalanga, Jacob always wanted to be a successful commercial farmer. Part of this dream was achieved in 1988 and 1989 when the government of the then-KaNgwane homeland state paid for him to study agriculture at Saasveld Agricultural College in George, Western Cape. Despite being the first black student at Saasveld and having to attend lectures in Afrikaans, this Zulu man successfully achieved his diploma.
After a short stint working for the KaNgwane government, Jacob took up a permanent job with Buscor in Mpumalanga. His diligent work ethic made him comfortable there, but he wanted to become a full-time farmer. In 1997 he spent some of his personal savings to lease grazing land near Amersfoort, Mpumalanga. He bought 20 Santa Gertrudis cows and a bull, which would become the foundation of his Fajasi Santa Gertrudis Stud and commercial herd. “Between 1997 and 2000, while still working for Buscor, I had a Standerton vet, Dr JJ Kroon, artificially inseminate my cows and new heifers with Santa Gertrudis semen bought from the HB Louwrens and Seuns Stud of Koos Louwrens,” explains Jacob.
“The heifers came from Lourie Bosman, the former Agri SA president, and the semen brought new genetics into my small herd. I wanted to breed animals that were medium-framed, drought-tolerant, would calve yearly and be hardy enough to handle the tough, uneven Amersfoort veld.”
Building on achievement
By 2000, Jacob owned about 60 registered Santa Gertrudis cows and 20 commercial Drakensbergers. To grow his herds as fast as possible he bought a group of quality Santa Gertrudis heifers from Pip Hobson of Ladybrand. Jacob refused to spend money beyond his cash flow and would only buy improvements when finances allowed. This meant relatively slow progress, but encouraged him to save by carrying out improvements himself.
In 2003 he moved his stud and commercial herds to Somerhoek Farm between Amersfoort and Wakkerstroom. The farm had been successfully claimed by the iziBambanani Communal Property Association (CPA), and Jacob negotiated a 10-year lease on about 400ha for grazing. He had to erect all the infrastructure including fencing and water access facilities to homesteads on the farm at his own expense, and employed some of the CPA members to help. Today he still employs members of the community.
“I came to realise that by helping the people, my relationship with them improved and they began to take care of the infrastructure,” says Jacob. “However, I still had to struggle with CPA members who wanted to keep their livestock on my leased land. The community also has few skills and often expect more than they deserve. Sometimes those who aren’t employed poach on my land, vandalise fencing and burn grazing.”
Expanding to reach goals
In 2006 he resigned from Buscor to take up farming full-time. Until then his savings and money from cattle sales had kept the business afloat. He began to use his retirement package to speed up the development of his farm.
He moved into a small house on Somerhoek Farm and began to manage his 160 head Santa Gertrudis stud and commercial cattle. He also began selling stud bulls to local commercial cattlemen, while cull bulls were sent to the abattoir. All the Santa females he breeds are retained as stud or commercial animals.
By 2007 Jacob had decided to aim for a herd of 500 stud animals and 300 commercial animals. To diversify income generation, he invested in 200 SA Mutton Merino sheep to provide cash flow, and leased another 250ha of grazing for them on another farm. He wants a 3 000-strong flock by 2015, as he believes it will generate more income on a year-to-year basis than beef.
Until 2007, Jacob had never asked for support from government towards establishing and growing his enterprise. That year he approached the Agricultural Development Corporation for a R500 000 loan to help build his stud faster. His retirement package was running low and he needed to buy in 100 more animals to be sustainable. “I was given no favours when I applied for the loan,” says Jacob. “I had to go through the same loan application processes required by regular banks. To be honest, I was hoping for some type of benefit as an emerging farmer.
“I had the training, the motivation, the proof of my ability and I wasn’t a risk. Other people with absolutely no farming skills or dedication were simply given land and money. The situation really confuses me, but I wasn’t interested in getting upset, I had work to do.” The same year Jacob approached the Department of Land Affairs in Nelspruit about a farm the department had recently bought near Amersfoort called Schulpspruit, as part of its land redistribution programme.
Jacob offered to lease the 347ha Schulpspruit farm for three years, and then have first option to buy it. He says he’s determined to eventually buy it and will use government financing.
Jacob’s vision is to use the farm for fodder production and grain cropping and he explains that this summer he will be planting his first crops as a full-time farmer.
Now, living on Schulpspruit and managing his beef and sheep on land leased on two other farms, Jacob feels he’s getting close to his goals. He’s pleased he now has a workshop where he can fix machinery and restore implements to working condition at a fraction of the cost of buying them new. He has even adapted implements to suit his particular farming needs (see box: Jacob’s inventory of machinery and equipment).
Strong political views on land and funding
Jacob is critical of the way land reform is being carried out in South Africa. He says that only crooked individuals are benefiting from the process, and white farmers who offer to mentor emerging farmers are being chased away by government. “Land redistribution is failing,” he says. “Government should rather buy land and lease it out instead of just giving it away.
“If emerging farmers can prove they can farm productively, the land should be sold to them at a reasonable or even a discounted price. Government should find ways to help existing commercial farmers, of whatever colour, to prevent food shortages. This would enhance job creation and job security for workers.” Despite the problems agriculture faces, Jacob is positive about the future. He believes it’s critical to somehow draw more young and determined individuals into agriculture, especially the black youth. “The youth have forgotten how important agriculture is to the development and security of this country.” Contact Fanyana Jacob Sibeko on 082 386 3911. |fw