Young bloods ready to boost north coast growers
The newly appointed SA Canegrowers team on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast are not only young and smart but driven by a passion to support and unite sugarcane growers behind a common purpose aimed at seeing the region’s industry thrive.
Glantine Mashule who is the SA Canegrowers Senior Regional Manager based at Umhlali, together with Thembeka Mtetwa, who is the Agricultural Business Advisor in Amatikulu, Samukelisiwe Khanyile, the Agricultural Advisor for Small Scale Growers and Senior Area Manager, Sinehlanhla Njoko, have hit the ground running since their appointments earlier this year.
“Right now, we are all getting to know each other. Our main aim is to make sure our growers make money while maximising the potential of their land. We are advocates for farmers,” Mashule said.
The thirty-two-year old who grew up in Nelspruit and studied Agricultural Economics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal before working at Standard Bank for two years, was employed by SA Canegrowers in the Eston district for six years. He took up his new responsibilities in April this year.
“Working in Eston completely changed my opinion of farmers. I saw there how they help the communities around them and the relationships they have with the people in the rural areas. They are pro development and transformation, they are wanting to see change. I don’t think enough people know that about them,” he said.
Mashule and his team provide grower support through technical advice, budgeting and costings, as well as sharing information on the changing legislative environment, or economic policy that could impact on farming activities.
“I spend a lot of time with officials here in the town and in the district, in other words, anything that is happening in the local structures. I feed that information back to the farmers. We are an advocacy group – it is all about communication - representing the best interests of the growers. I have been given a beautiful opportunity, I love working with people, building relationships and the farmers must know that we are here for them through good times and bad times.”
Senior Area Manager, Sinehlanhla Njoko – who was a member of the First National Bank graduate programme and studied Agricultural Economics at UKZN - said what she loved about her job was each day brought its own surprises.
“I attend a lot of stakeholder meetings where we represent our farmers. I visit the growers in our area to help with any information they might need around budgeting, pricing or costs planning. There is never a day that is the same. I love interacting with people and I know that I am making a difference. Agriculture is the foundation of our economy, what I am doing is relevant and very important,” she said.
Mtetwa, who also studied Agricultural Economics at UKZN, said her appointment had baffled her family. “You know my mom asks me what I am doing. And I say I am in agriculture, and she will say, “but you are so lazy!”. Many people still think that if you are in agriculture you are out in the fields ploughing or planting. But that thinking is changing. Our communities are beginning to see the importance of what we do, how important it is to be strategic and to plan, particularly when it comes to finance,” she said.
Mtetwa’s particular focus is the support of land claim recipients and smallscale growers.
“I was really fortunate because first I had money from the National Student Finance Aid Scheme for my studies at UKZN but based on my results I was then awarded a bursary. When I qualified in 2014 I heard there were vacancies at the South African Sugar Association for interns. I applied and was accepted.”
But it is now that she is adding to the agriculture value chain that Mtetwa says she has found her niche. “I love the continuous interaction with people. I love seeing how I can change people’s lives for the better and being a part of that change. I believe I am building our economy through the work that I do.”
Samukelisiwe Khanyile, also known as Sam and similarly qualified from UKZN, comes from a family of farmers and with a passion for working with rural farmers, she is now introducing a seed cane scheme for the area’s small cane growers. “My father is a smallscale farmer. But not in sugarcane. He grows potatoes and other vegetables. Growing up I used to see the difficulties he had.
“I have only just started in this position, but I have already visited many of the people I am going to work with. I am doing what I like and being able to advise farmers and helping them is something I am so passionate about,” she said.