“As far as I can remember, my dad never had a job, he always worked for himself. He was a builder and a farmer, producing maize, potatoes, cabbage and spinach. He also had a few goats”
Mr Mthuthuzeli Gqiza is a small scale cabbage farmer from Goso location in Mt Ayliff, Eastern Cape, South Africa. “I come from a very poor background and I was raised by uneducated parents. There were four of us and I am the first born. I grew up helping my father to sell stuff like clothes and the farm produce. Even though my father did not make a lot, I managed to go to school and I graduated in social sciences, I even have honors in labour relations. I worked for the department of labour for seven months and I moved to the basic services department supporting small agribusiness for four years. I then left the municipality and worked for an NPO called SEDA in Alfred Nzo as a centre manager. This was a very good job, and it was paying very well. I had an opportunity to travel the world, visit other countries like Malaysia, China, USA attending incubation conferences. This made me fall in love with farming all over again”.
He resigned from his high paying job to follow his passion
Mr Gqiza is very passionate about his cabbage farm. He says cabbage is a very convenient crop especially in the rural areas. If you have cabbage, you will always have something to eat. Even for the poor people, one head of cabbage can go a long way compared to other crops like spinach. This passion comes from the upbringing and the experience gained as a labour inspector and supervisor over the years. “This made me reconnect with agriculture and I started growing cabbage on a very small scale in 2012 while I was still employed full-time. I resigned in 2018 as CEO and decided to concentrate on crop farming and I specialized in cabbage. I was never formally trained for this, I used the experience I gained as a young boy helping my father in the garden and also searched for more information from the internet. I started with 25 seedlings and in 3 to 4 months my turn over was R20000. I made an annual turn over of R660 000. My family thought I was bewitched when I told them that I was resigning to concentrate on farming. They were wondering why would I leave a high paying job for something I was not sure of, but I was determined to follow my passion and it is now paying off. My land is not big, I currently have 5 hectares of land and I use 2 hectares for my cabbage while I am still developing the 3 hectares, fencing it and installing an irrigation system. I am able to feed my family and make even more than expected.”
Though everything may seem to be working well for Mr Gqiza, there are still some challenges
The road to success may not always be smooth. “I have learned some lessons in my journey as a farmer. The challenges we face are as follows:
- Getting inputs is a challenge as we have to travel to other provinces. They are not available where we are.
- Our government is not helpful to all farmers and seems to be favoring a specific group of farmers. We cannot get access to credit or delivery.
- Government only supports coops and not individual farmers and some of us choose to work as individuals.
- No access to the market if you are a small scale farmer. The municipality may not negotiate access to the market e.g. refer us local businesses to buy from local producers like us.
- The businesses that buy from us determine the price they want to pay, we end up having no say in the deal. You take it or leave it.
- There is practically no support from anywhere for small scale farmers. “I applied for Covid 19 relief fund as was advertised by the government but my application was rejected and so were applications of other farmers I know. Government thinks we all need financial support, but all we need is access to the market.”
How Covid 19 has affected his farming business
Cabbage is the most popular vegetable in our villages. Out of 10 households, 9 will rely on cabbage. In winter, everyone buys cabbage, it is the only green vegetable that is available. “Harvesting cabbage in bits because of not having access to markets wastes a lot of time. In my area, people still do not care about Covid 19, they think it is far from them, probably because they have not heard of someone they know who has been infected. Some say they have suffered from a different period of poverty which they regard to be more serious than Covid 19. We just take necessary precautions but nothing has changed. Big businesses are the most affected. I must say as small scale farmers we are benefiting during this time as more and more people come to buy direct from us. They prefer to come to us than go into town for their vegetable needs.”
Advice for young people to consider farming
“When I was young, I thought my father was punishing me when he wanted me to help in his farm. I was not happy about that but the money he made is what paid for my school fees. Now I understand. Unemployment is very high in my country and with the government giving young people grants and subsidy, it makes them lazy even more. When I started farming on a very small scale, I would disappear from my office and go work in my small garden until I decided to resign. My resignation has created job opportunities for others. In my time, even at school, agriculture was used as a form of punishment and that is not something that would make you develop interest in farming. That needs to change, if it still happens. Young people need to us think farming instead of depending on handouts. Covid 19 lockdown has kind of revived basics of life. People have changed perceptions about life. Some have even started growing small crops in their gardens so they do not have to buy everything. Families need to encourage their young ones to learn about and love farming.