Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

Kalahari farmer

- FW



A farmer in the normally dry Kalahari stunned his neighbours when he produced a bumper crop of watermelon­s, beans, maize, pumpkins and sunflower.

In the awe-inspiring vastness of the Kalahari – where man and beast often die and where plants wither because of the idiosyncra­sies of Mother Nature – is where selfstyled ‘Mad Apie Dames’ farms, and he farms successful­ly too, as recent crop returns have shown.

“People call me Mad Apie Dames. I am the Jonah who has a yen for ploughing up streets and sand dunes and the man who is responsibl­e for driving away the rain. I am the man who would like to erect an edifice to the donkey, as a symbol of our civilisati­on, on one of the thousands of red, shifting sand dunes that is my country.” That is how Mr Dames, uncrowned Kalahari farming king and rebel farmer, describes himself.

The farm Grauwater – dig for water – Gochas, is where Apie Dames has thwarted Mother Nature and stopped the sniggers about that ‘sand dune farmer’. He has proved that, if the rains come, barrel-like watermelon­s, as sweet as nectar, and maize can be successful­ly grown. “That is, if the Good Lord provides rain at the right time,” he adds.

This year Apie Dames’s revolution­ary plans in the predominan­tly sheep-rearing area have paid dividends. He is jubilant.

It all started in 1965 when Apie, with his predelicti­on for agricultur­e, moved from the chalk plateau south of Mariental, lock, stock and barrel, into the vastness of the Kalahari which is now his home. One of the first things he packed was his plough. It was to pay dividends later.

“When you have felt the fine texture of the red Kalahari sand, and let it trickle through your fingers, your heart immediatel­y turns to the plough shear.”

In that year, 1965, donkeys were his work animals. He has great respect for these hardy little animals and still makes use of them. In that year the dust clouds hung heavily in the still Kalahari sky. Apie was ploughing and the stories soon circulated: “There is a man in those red sand dunes who is making roads. He is the man who is chasing away the rain. He should have his head read.”

Through perseveran­ce the new owner of Grauwater has won the first round – his watermelon­s, green mealies and haygrazer yield this year were enough to encourage any man with a love for the soil.

Until this year Apie contended with hordes of insect pests and the rain stayed away. But each year Apie ploughed and fertilized again.

“People thought I was mad but I had the feeling that, after learning from my mistakes season after season, good things could sprout from the soil of the Kalahari.”

When all his neighbours eventually decided that Apie had learnt his bitter lesson, he bought himself a tractor, much to the consternat­ion of all who then thought he was “really round the bend”. Apie shrugged off the remarks and the advice and used his tractor, not to mow grass in the good seasons as all the other farmers did, but to plough.

“In spite of little rain that year and the fact that the ground was so hard that the plough shear slithered and scrapped before it eventually bit in, Apie proudly

reaped a crop that filled 62 bags of bean hay – an unheard of accomplish­ment in the history of that area.

“Good feed for rams this bean hay,” he said, proudly exhibiting a commodity that had taken years to achieve and had taken hundreds of hours of sweat and toil. “Put it through a hammermill and Bob’s your uncle. It’s wonderful stuff for rams.”

Kalahari farmers live close to nature – and this applies to Apie too. They read the message of nature, when the rains will come and when the drought will come, from the veld, the plants that live on it and the animals that dwell on it.

This year – his good year – Apie read the message from Mother Nature loud and clear. The spoor of the puff adder, a trail similar to that which would be left by a bicycle with a flat wheel, was clear in the sand. They were moving to higher ground. The lizards, their bodies big and fat and the fact that they were moving to shelter told Apie that the big rains were coming. He acted accordingl­y and his tractor droned day and night to prepare for ‘God’s bounty’.

“In previous years, January was usually a bad month for rain and in February it was usually too late to plough. This year the Heavens opened in January, the month I had catered for all along.”

After the firsts rains he ploughed, planted and sowed. He selected a broad ‘street’ between two sand dunes for his dryland planting. He based his choice of planting site on the fact that all Kalahari farmers believe that damp seeps down the sides of the dunes and settles in the depression between them.

Between 15 and 20ha of sandy Kalahari soil in this depression was ploughed over and beans and mealies were planted. Added to this unusual crop in a land where water is a luxury and green growth is almost unknown, Apie added a little sunflower seed to Black Diamond and Blue Ribbon watermelon seed, a handful of haygrazer seed and sweet melon and pumpkin pips. And from this he grew his little oasis in the desert.

“That man is ploughing more this year,” the news spread. “He is the man that is driving away the rain.”

Apie shrugged his shoulders and continued with his operations. The tractor droned on in an area where until then only karakul root thrived. Then, in January, 109mm of rain fell which, in the Kalahari, is regarded as an excellent fall. It was then March and still no further rain had fallen. Farmers throughout the land were anxious. Then on March 3, 70mm of rain fell and Apie heaved a sigh of relief. His crop had been saved.

His watermelon­s! The Black Diamond had ripened first and the row upon row of the Blue Ribbon variety, shimmering in the Kalahari sun, held a promise of an even greater crop.

Hundreds of the watermelon­s were sold for human consumptio­n.

“It made my heart glad to have people come to my farm to buy the melons, fresh off the soil, and to see my sand dune farming enterprise,” he said.

His farm is 6 000ha in extent and of this total, about 1 000ha is cultivated.

 ??  ?? LEFT: MrDames withoneofh­is BlackDiamo­nd watermelon­s. This photograph accompanie­d the article in our 4 October 1972 issue.
LEFT: MrDames withoneofh­is BlackDiamo­nd watermelon­s. This photograph accompanie­d the article in our 4 October 1972 issue.

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