“I’ve never been the kind of worker who always keeps one eye on the clock to make sure that I don’t punch out one minute later than necessary. I focus on the job and on getting things right.” Karools (Kolie) Paulse is a perfectionist who ensures that he takes care of his responsibilities on the farm, whatever they may be, in a timely and professional manner.
After finishing school in 1974, he started working as a general worker for the Du Toit Group in the Koue Bokkeveld. He was later promoted to tractor driver and by the time he left the group in 1989, he was a junior team leader. Kolie then moved to Citrusdal and started working as a team leader for Mouton Citrus, one of the leading growers and exporters of citrus in South Africa. Working his way up, he is now the farm manager of the 50ha citrus farm, Danckaert. He is also responsible for installing and overseeing irrigation systems on all 12 farms in the group.
One of the most important aspects of successful orchard management is proper irrigation and Kolie takes great pride in managing irrigation systems for Mouton Citrus. The drip irrigation installed on the farms features some of the most advanced technology available for irrigation scheduling. But, he says, technology is not an alternative to practical knowledge. “I always have a spade with me when I go to the orchards so that I can dig a hole and see for myself what’s going on in the soil.”
Despite relying on soil moisture probes that continuously log data according to which irrigation scheduling is programmed, Kolie uses soil profile pits to do visual assessments and determine the water needs in the orchards.
Excellence runs in the family
“My parents were also farm workers and because I was one of eight children, there wasn’t enough money for me to finish school,” he recalls. “I remember when I first started working on the farm we received our weekly wage in a small brown envelope. I didn’t dare open that envelope – it went straight to my mother who was in charge of the family’s finances.”
Following in the footsteps of his cousins, Jaffie Galant and Wimpie Paulse, who won the title in 2006 and 2012 respectively, Kolie was named Western Cape Farm Worker of the Year for 2013. He says it is no coincidence that members of his extended family have performed so well as farm workers – really excelling in this field.
“We all grew up on farms and our farm worker parents taught us to love farming. They also encouraged us to work hard and build better lives for ourselves and our families. I got to where I am today because of hard work and thanks to the people who believed in me.” Kolie also expressed gratitude to Johan Mouton, owner of Mouton Citrus, who gave him the opportunity to develop his career.
Importance of training
According to Kolie, Johan is an ardent believer in training, and all farm workers at Mouton Citrus are given an opportunity to improve their skills and knowledge through the many training courses offered. But, while Kolie admits he has benefited a great deal from the extensive training and further agricultural education he received, he says there is no substitute for experience and hard work.
When Kolie was appointed manager of Danckaert farm, he promised himself that he would make a success of the job. And despite suffering serious setbacks when heavy rains flooded the farm, first in 2007 and again a year later, he has achieved what he set out to do. The farm produces a variety of citrus for the export market, including Navel, Valencia Late, Midknight Valencia and Turkey Valencia oranges, and Eureka lemons.
Painting the wrong picture
Kolie is forthright about farmer-worker relations and the narrow depiction of agriculture perpetuated by the media and politicians. “In all my years as a farm worker, no farmer has ever mistreated me – they’ve been good to me,” he says.
“Agriculture is my life, that’s why I get so frustrated when this sector is treated like the skunk of this country. Ultimately, people will survive without mining, but they have to eat.”
Kolie bemoans the fact that mainstream media and politicians fixate on the few things that are wrong in the agriculture sector instead of recognising the many good things it does. He believes that 2014 will be a difficult year for farm workers, especially with elections coming up. Farm workers, he says, are soft targets for politicians: they are often taken advantage of for political gain, and in the process, the image of farm workers suffers.
The representation of farm workers as a vulnerable group being exploited by farmers is far from the truth, Kolie stresses. This perception fails to recognise all that is being done by the sector to empower farm workers, and does not acknowledge the important contribution that farm workers make to ensure food security.
“My heart broke because of all that happened during the farm worker wage strikes in 2012/2013. The union leaders ordered the workers to strike and then deserted them. As a result of the strikes, many people have been left without a job. The number of people coming to me asking for a job on the farm has doubled since last year and the sad fact is I can’t help them.”
The way forward for farm workers and farmers should be to fix the gaps in communication, Kolie stresses. “I believe you have to be open with your workers. They should know what is going on in your business. I don’t mean that you have to open all your books for workers to scrutinise; what I mean is that if you give a worker a pair of pruning scissors to work with, tell that person that those scissors cost R340, so that he or she can understand why it’s so important to look after them properly.
“When you have a bad year on the farm, tell your workers, and when you have a particularly good year, reward them accordingly.” The only way to improve relationships is through better communication, he adds. “Farmers and farm workers don’t speak to each other enough, and when you don’t communicate, you can’t understand each other. The employer and worker will never learn to trust each other if they do not first learn how to communicate effectively.”
Realise your dream
Kolie believes that people should never allow a lack of opportunity to stand in their way of achieving their dreams. Through hard work, they can create their own opportunities. On the other hand, they shouldn’t waste opportunities given to them. “Each time I hear about another land reform farm that has failed, I wish that they would rather have given someone like me the opportunity to make a success of it,” he says.
Although he is not worried about the future of agriculture in this country, Kolie believes there is a lot of work to be done. And he is setting an example on the farms he manages. “When I retire one day I want to be able to sit back and know that I gave it my all and did my job well,” he says.
Kolie hopes to become more involved with training in the future, saying that he hopes he can serve as a role model for other farm workers. Ultimately, he aspires to play a role in improving the image of agriculture in South Africa, and farm workers in particular.
Email Kolie Paulse at [email protected].