In the last three years, the award-winning South African farmer Maria Kantwan has made a point of exposing her son, Brenton, to farming activities. This is because she believes that the agriculture sector needs to pass the baton to a young generation in order to feed the nation without any hindrances.
Kantwan has already won four agriculture awards in the Northern Cape province, including the coveted prize as top women farmer in 2016 and, more recently, also a prize as the best medium-sized business. She currently employs four people on her farm in Ritchie, about 500km from Johannesburg.
Tiisetso Manoko: What has your journey in the farming industry been like?
Maria Kantwan: I started my journey of farming in 2008 under my company, Rest and Vrede portion 2. It has been overwhelming as a beginner. I started with about seven goats. In 2014, the department of land reform bought me a farm following my applications with them. At the moment, I have 40 goats and 85 cows. It has been a journey with great success.
How has farming with a little one turned out for you?
I think he is learning every day. I have decided to hold him by the hand and teach him all I know, so that one day he can take over from me and be a leader who brings nothing but change in the community. He is young and energetic, willing to learn and makes the best out of this exercise.
As an award-winning farmer, what are you doing to empower other women in your area, especially young people?
As and when I have work that needs more hands, I call young people in my community to come and work for me. It is not something that is full-time, but at least for that time they are able to put food on the table.
Once they are here, I mentor and encourage them to learn as much as possible about farming. Without food, people will starve. Without farmers, there is no food. I walk the talk by calling on young people to start their small [food] gardens and work to feed the nation. I have gathered that young people really want to work. They want the opportunity.
Do you think there is enough assistance for farmers in the Northern Cape?
I do not think there is enough help for farmers in the province. There is a lot [more] that [the provincial] government can do to assist farmers. Yes, I have won awards in 2011, 2015 and 2016, but the help from government to me is very little. I think they can do more for farmers, especially young people who are barely coping with managing their farms.
What are the most common challenges you face in your enterprise?
We have a serious challenge with water. Running water in our area is a concern and it makes life extremely difficult to run a farm with water cuts. Storage facilities for our feeds are also a concern. The issue of land… People need land. We have people who want to farm but the access to land is an issue.
Education on agriculture, [both] its pros and cons, is of importance. We need awareness on several activities that could help farmers to know more about the sector. Yes, some of us who have been on the field for much longer can share light, but government can bring experts in the sector to teach and impart knowledge to the young ones.