JOHANNESBURG - A Johannesburg smallholder farmer is changing the face of township agriculture by stimulating the economy and providing jobs for her community of Mohlakeng in Randfontein.
Businesswoman Violet Mathusiemang proved that one has to sow before reaping when she left the construction sector for the agriculture industry, identified by President Cyril Ramaphosa as having massive potential for job creation in the immediate and long-term.
Mathusiemang is founder and chairperson of the women-led agricultural cooperative, You Reap What You Sow, which was established in 2011.
The cooperative has 20 hectares of land upon which it produces organically-grown tomatoes, cabbages, spinach, green beans, green peppers, potatoes and onions.
It supplies the informal market such as spaza shops, hawkers and funerals, and the formal sector including the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market.
The 90 percent black-women owned cooperative employs 12 employees and creates a further 36 job opportunities through learnerships as well as seasonal and casual employment.
The agricultural land was provided to You Reap What You Sow through a partnership between the West Rand District Municipality and platinum miner Sibanye-Stillwater, which contributed R6.7 million towards infrastructure, irrigation system, operation costs and equipment.
The company also offered mentorship and training for employees. Mathusiemang says they plan to farm the rest of the 20ha land with more crops, within three years, in order to provide more opportunities, especially for the youth.
Mathusiemang, 50, says she wants to change the misplaced narrative that agriculture is for older people.
“We want to make agriculture fashionable to young people,” she says. “They must not think, for once, that agriculture is for the elderly”
She said the agricultural sector, which fell 29.2 percent in the second quarter, following a 33.6 percent slump in the first quarter, due to a decrease in the production of field and horticultural crops, should be treated with seriousness by authorities.
“Agriculture is making a change in our lives. We are able to support our families and take our children to universities,” she says.
She says some of those who land learnerships at the cooperative are university graduates. “We are very proud about the difference we are making in their lives,” says Mathusiemang, sounding pleased with the achievement.
The entrepreneur says farmers are important in any society as they are tasked with the critical issue of ensuring food security for the nation.
“We eat everyday but have you ever wondered where the food came from? No, because agriculture is looked down upon,” says Mathusiemang.
She says the uninformed in society think of agriculture as a profession for the lowly and uneducated.
“Those are people who don’t have a clue what the sector is all about. It is my opinion that agriculture should be taught in school from the primary level up.”
If that were the case, she argues, there would be fewer people who are ignorant about the role agriculture plays in the country’s economy.
Mathusiemang says they want to supply affordable vegetables to consumers as it is becoming more expensive for people to afford basic necessities for a healthy diet.
She says her plans for You Reap What You Sow are to venture into agro-processing in the future and tap into the lucrative export markets.
“We also want to employ more people and take our kids off the streets and drugs like nyaope.”
She is confident that they will reach their goals in the medium to long-term. “When you put your heart in it you will succeed in everything that you do.”
Interestingly, Mathusiemang says she tried a number of sectors from which to eke out a living before settling in agriculture.
When asked how she started out in the sector, she says: “I was in the construction industry when I attended a workshop. The facilitator asked us as to how long we are going to rely on tenders for survival.”
She says this was a real eye opener for her. “They introduced this concept of farming for a living and I thought it’s something I could do. And as they say the rest is history.”