Top black grain farmer: outspoken & determined

Grain SA’s Developing Farmer of the Year, Labious Manoto, not only produces maize and sunflower on a respectable 1 000ha, he also runs 180 commercial cattle and 200 sheep. Starting off on communal land back in the 1970s, he has some stern advice for the state about the problems experienced by black farmers. Annelie Coleman reports.
Issue date : 28 November 2008

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Annelie Coleman

Labious farms on roughly 1 000ha in the Gelukspan and Lombaardslaagte areas in Lichtenburg, North West, where he produces mainly maize and sunflower. He has successfully combined communal and commercial farming and developed a profitable venture from which he and the members of his community benefit. “I rent 410ha from the local community and it costs me R7 000 per year for the plots of land planted to sunflower and R6 500 for the plots planted to maize,” he explains.

“We calculate a tenth of the production, which means I’ve paid some R133 000 over to the local community this year. It’s a win-win situation – have access to land and the community is ensured of an income. rent a further 75ha from the Kopano Community Authority, which consists of traditional leaders of 15 local communities and own a 500ha farm called Lusthof near Gelukspan.” “Our soil is very good and the depth on my farmlands is between 900mm and 600mm.

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This makes it ideal for maize and sunflower production in rotation. Last season planted 659ha to sunflower and 350ha to maize, with a sunflower yield of well over 1,2t/ha and a maize harvest of 3,5t/ha. “This season, plan to plant half of my land to sunflower and the other half to maize to spread the risk. High input costs and poor maize prices have forced me to plan very carefully what to plant. Crop production is a risky business and one has to keep all the variables in mind.” L abious’s herd of cattle comprises 180 commercial animals, mainly on natural veld and grain rests. S ome of the maize stover is baled as additional feed. “put two stud bulls to my herd, a Beefmaster and a Simmentaler, to increase the quality of my stock.

 I’m selling the older animals and want to market weaners. also have about 200 sheep. Theft is a big problem in these parts, especially of sheep, and had to build my sheep pen right next to my house to keep the criminals at bay.” H e says it feels good to be accepted as a commercial farmer by his white counterparts. “farm on both sides of a tarred road and it’s great when people take notice of what I’m doing. Farming is tough but we share the same problems and challenges and we’re all adversely affected by high input costs and dwindling profits. believe we have much to learn from each other.”

Grain SA CEO Dr Kobus Laubscher says, “Labious has an entrepreneurial flair. He has tasted profits which are the driver for any entrepreneur. Although we taught him a lot on the way to full commercialisation, he was driven by his own will to succeed.”

Farming in his blood
Labious’s father settled in Lombaardslaagte, where he was born in 1948. He inherited his love for farming from his father, who realised that the land they were living on was arable and started ploughing using oxen. He qualified as a bricklayer in 1966, but his heart was never in it, although it taught him many lessons he still applies to his business today.

“It taught me to budget, calculate risks and focus on the end result. I was a bricklayer for some time and even worked on the first double-storey in Mafikeng, but in 1975 I started to farm part-time.” At the time Labious owned 15ha communal land and rented another 30ha. He was also employed by Public Works. “I usually took all my annual leave to oversee the planting of crops. My business expanded steadily and by 1996, I was working on about 500ha.

 A year later, I decided to farm full-time and the farm Lusthof was allocated to me by the government.” Labious explains that the joy of receiving the land soon turned sour as he received no assistance from government. He had to approach financial institutions on his own. “I decided to join Grain SA’s farmer development programme, which played an integral part in my journey to becoming a commercial farmer. It taught me to change my way of thinking, to plan and reason like a commercial farmer who is ultimately focused on profits.”

Problems at grass roots level Black farmers are disadvantaged as far as the access to information is concerned and although there are many extension officers in Labious’s region, they are inexperienced. “They are very helpful, but don’t have the knowledge we need,” he says. This makes programmes like Grain SA’s important, but there are too few farmers taking part, mainly because of a lack of understanding and misperceptions, according to Labious. “Many people think Grain SA is out to take their money from them,” he says.

 “I believe it’s the duty of the extension officers to properly inform farmers about this programme and to encourage them to take part.” Labious has been involved in the programme since the early 1990s and says he gained invaluable information and knowledge. “The newsletter, Pula/Imvula has been a powerful tool over the years, and I’ve been a member of the local study group for a long time,” he says. He points out that new farmers come from a background of communal and subsistence farming and don’t understand commercial farming or long-term goals. “I wonder if government knows what’s happening. People are being dumped on farms without any support structures. If officials would come here I’d show them hundreds of hectares that are neglected and unproductive, homesteads that have been vandalised and livestock in an appalling condition.

Most of the productive farms bought by government now look like scrapyards. The people settled on them don’t work anymore and just hang around.” Labious says another major problem is that new farmers struggle to get access to funding or don’t receive enough. “If the back wheel of a tractor gets damaged, it costs R6 000 to R8 000. Most farmers just don’t have that kind of money. I’m in favour of a credit scheme through which funds are made available at a low interest rate.” He feels it’s imperative that government becomes more involved in agriculture and it should start with a proper analysis of what’s happening in the industry and all the factors that impact on farming, commercial or otherwise.

“I feel the politicians are sitting in their offices with no idea what we have to contend with on the ground,“ Labious says. “Government should have anticipated the problems farmers are facing and redirected its efforts long ago. But it seems politicians don’t listen to the people; they’re all talk and no action as is evident in the health, education and agriculture departments.” Labious says training programmes should be made available to farmworkers so that they fully understand their jobs.

This will empower them, form a solid foundation for agriculture and uplift communities. “I’m saddened that agricultural subjects are no longer taught at schools. It’s vital that children understand where food comes from and how it’s produced. They should be taught to plant vegetable gardens instead of being allowed to hang around in the streets.” For more information contact Labious Manoto on 083 497 4151. |fw