INSPIRATION Planting seeds of her future
Mahlatse Matlakane grew an interest in farming when she was just 15 years old
POVERTY has forced many girls to do different things including prostitution to get money for things such as buying sanitary towels or helping their families put food on the table. When Mahlatse Matlakane (20) from Ga-Moisimane in Bochum, just outside Polokwane, Limpopo, was faced with the same predicament, she took a different route to put food on the table by going into farming.
GETTING INTO FARMING
In 2014 when Mahlatse was 15 years old, she decided to work at a local farm on weekends to make extra money and help her unemployed mother care for her and her two siblings.
The farm she worked on planted green peppers, and she says she fell in love with her job.
“I was amazed by how small seeds could turn into plants that produced big green peppers. Seeing how the plants were taken care of by using fertilisers to control bugs made me love farming. I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she says. “I then decided to work at the farm during school holidays. My peers mocked me saying farm work was for illiterate poor people. But I knew what I was doing. I wanted to gain knowledge in farming so that I could pursue it as a career.” In December of that year, Mahlatse approached the farm owner, Johan Nel, about ploughing the seeds herself and growing the pepper from start.
Because Johan saw her love for farming, he gave her a two hectare plot on his land to do this. “The pepper crops I had grown inside trays turned out so well that Johan encouraged me to take care of them until they grew fruit,” she says.
WE MUST RUN PROJECTS AND CREATE JOBS AS WELL
HER OWN PRODUCE
When Mahlatse completed matric in 2016, she had a choice to study law at either Wits University or the University of Johannesburg as she was accepted at both institutions. But she convinced her mother to let her take a gap year in order to decide if she indeed wanted to study law.
“I went back to the farm and asked Johan to help me pursue my love for farming. He suggested that I talk to a chief in the neighbouring village about giving me land. When the chief saw the work I had done at Johan’s farm, he was impressed and offered me 40 hectares of land from the Babirwa Ba Tau Ya Tswala Farm and asked that I employ local people if I needed help,” she says.
With the seeds she received from Johan, she only used three hectares of the land, where she ploughed green peppers as she has experience working with them.
GETTING A HELPING HAND
Even though she now has people working for her, Mahlatse ensures she runs the farm herself and takes care of the plants, which she says produce big peppers because they are getting her love and attention daily. Seeing her daughter’s hard work pay off, Mahlatse’s mother, Tiny, also helps at the farm on some days. But things were not always easy for Mahlatse as she didn’t get much help with the irrigation system, fertilisers and seeds and was using a dripping irrigation system donated by Johan and water from the river next to the farm. She is planning to expand after a construction company she approached for help donated an irrigation system to cover four hectares. “I owe my success to Johan because he believed in me, mentored me and gave me a start. I wouldn’t have done it without him. He basically trained me,” she adds.
Mahlatse’s farm supplies green peppers to fresh produce markets in Bochum and Polokwane.
She has also employed four people as per her agreement with the chief.
She believes that young people should start being taught how to create jobs as early as high school, instead of being taught to study and be employees.
“It breaks my heart to see young people, especially in the villages who just want to go to school and be employed. That’s why we have a high number of unemployed graduates because that’s all we are taught, things need to change. We must run projects and create jobs as well,” says Mahlatse.
Her future plans include getting formal training in agriculture through short courses so she can stay on top of her game as new and modern ways of growing vegetables are always introduced.
Mahlatse Matlakane says she knew she wanted to go into farming when she worked on one
Mahlatse Matlakane plants and sells green peppers to markets in Polokwane and Bochum