For Mantombi Madona, farming is about much more than earning a salary. She believes she is called to help ensure that people always have food on their table and has great advice for unemployed agriculture graduates.
She was raised by a father who sold his cattle to afford his daughter the best education, and to see that she never goes to bed on an empty stomach. This is how farmer and trainer Mantombi Madona describes the man who inspired her farming journey.
Today, she proudly follows in his footsteps. Not only does she grow and sell pumpkins in and around Wesselsbron in the Free State in South Africa, but she also leaves no stone unturned to help those in need to put bread on their tables.
“My father was a farmer,” reminisces Madona. “He sold milk on the streets to make a living. Growing up was not easy. I would watch my father sell his cattle for us to go to school. He inspired me to be where I am today. Growing up was not easy at all, but because of him we survived.”
After matriculating, Madona embarked on further studies in agriculture, but dropped out after a while to return back to the farm.
“Although I grew up on a farm, I was not that into agriculture. I think the love of it [only] started to kick in after I dropped out of college. While at home, I got a bursary to study agriculture at the Glen Agricultural College in Bloemfontein. This is where I obtained my crop production diploma.”
Thereafter, Madona furthered her studies at the University of the Free State.
Passionate about agriculture development
Besides being a farmer, Madona is also an agriculture facilitator and trainer at Inmed South Africa. She works on a project that teaches disabled people about aquaponics, mentoring them to become self-sustainable farmers.
Aquaponics is an innovative and highly intensive food production technique that combines fish farming and soilless crop growing.
Madona admits that working with the disabled can be rather challenging since they need special attention and loads of patience.
“It’s very difficult, but because I love what I am doing, [it] I am patient with them. We understand each other.
Her passion for working the land goes beyond merely earning a salary, says Madona. She wants to ensure that people always have food on the table. Furthermore, aquaponics stretched her abilities as a farmer. “I didn’t do aquaponics at university, so for me, it was something new. I continue to learn every day with my students, and I think this is what makes it exciting.”
She believes aquaponics is ideal for disabled people because physical labour is fairly limited.
Looking to the future
Meanwhile, Madona and her students are selling their produce to local communities.
“We are getting a lot of support from the community. They come to our project sites to buy our products and our farmers also take some veggies to cook at home. With the money we make, we are able to reinvest it in our project.”
Madona hopes to continue growing pumpkins and watermelons on her two-hectare land while expanding to other crops.
“Despite receiving heavy rainfall which destroyed my watermelons [earlier], I am not giving up. I see myself making it big one day and proving that women in this industry can also make it big,” she says.
And her advice for agriculture students who are struggling to find work?
“If you have studied agriculture, don’t wait and expect a job at the department of agriculture. Do something and start working for yourself because you have all the knowledge you need. Why not start farming? You have everything in your own hands, so you can produce.”