What started as a coping mechanism with life’s curveballs and pursuit to secure food for himself and his family has turned Augustine’s journey to vegetable farming into an inspirational story, we all can relate to and learn from.
Pfananani Augustine Nemasisi is a self-taught vegetable farmer and founder of AVM Angela Farming, a vegetable farm located in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo. Raised by a single mother, Augustine never imagined farming in his future. He pursued his studies in Human Resources from Jeppe College.
“I discovered my passion for farming after a heartbreak and had to find something to keep myself occupied.”
Augustine’s account of how his journey to farming started. The story of Augustine’s journey to farming is proof of the belief that a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.
AVM Angela, a vegetable farm named in remembrance of Augustine’s mother has been in full operation for 3 years now. With the assistance and support of his parents, Augustine was able to secure 8.9 hectares of land.
But even so, Augustine’s enthusiasm goes down a few notches as he remembers how challenging and seemingly impossible it was acquiring land because no one was willing to sell.
His confidence is difficult to miss as he takes prides in the support his parents showed toward his farming career. His farm has two boreholes where they source irrigation water from.
With South Africa amongst the list of water-scarce countries, Augustine makes use of a drip-irrigation system to reduce water losses. Also reducing his water footprint and such a system also carries the benefit to tailor water pressure according to plant needs, effective in avoiding over and under irrigation.
Vegetable production at AVM Angela Farming is divided into two seasonal rotations, namely, winter and summer season production. With cabbages, mustards (Florida broadleaf variety), spinach, and potatoes are grown in winter.
The summer rotation consist of tomatoes, green peppers, watermelons and the newest enterprise butternuts. Cabbages being Augustine’s signature enterprise.
Augustine confirms the high maintenance of the cabbage enterprise when compared to other vegetable enterprises he farms with.
Cabbages alone has the whole operation relying heavily on chemicals. The frequency of chemical application is more during the summer season, with chemical applications almost every three days.
He highlighted how crop rotation is a critical practice in pest management and nutrient availability for plant root uptake.
He has invested in a nursery to produce his own seedlings. The production of own seedlings reduces operational costs involved when having to outsource seedlings from other companies.
However, little time is spent on developing the nursery due to the time consuming day-to-day operational activities.
Quality Is Important In Vegetable Farming
“I don’t compromise when it comes to the quality of seeds and chemicals.” Augustine when asked what is his principle for quality and sustainability. The shift in consumer preferences on quality and shelf life of fresh produce is gaining more strength.
Farmers have no choice but to ensure good quality produce is available for customers. Augustine prides himself on the quality of all his vegetables and the market presence agrees.
“One thing that I have come to master and take control of is the quality I produce. I only produce good quality” says Augustine in response to one of the values of AVM Angela Farming.
The Key to Intensive Vegetable Production
Planning the vegetable production is an important tool Augustine uses to achieve sustainability and competitive advantage in the market. He states that planting dates are scheduled weeks apart, keeping the supply of cabbages to the market constant.
“There must always be something available for me to supply to my clients, so they do not run to other vegetable farmers.”
Soil preparation is also an important tool that according to Augustine takes a lot of hard work and determination.
“Farming is not for the faint-hearted and lazy. You must be willing to put in the hard work. If you are not able to do that you will not succeed in farming”, says emerging vegetable farmer Augustine.
Determination is a trait Augustine prides himself about, stating that what sets him apart from the rest is his ability to finish what he starts.
Access to Markets
Augustine identified marketing as a very critical aspect of the business especially with fresh produce having limited shelf-life. He is of the view that with poor marketing, your produce will get rotten on the farm. That is why he uses various social media platforms amongst other marketing platforms to promote his products.
He mentioned having gone on various radio stations to market his produce. Augustine pairs that with occasional visits to supermarkets to market his quality products, even to those supermarkets he already supplies to.
He now supplies vegetables to fresh produce markets, boxer, spar, and other local supermarkets. His product offering includes; cabbages, peppers, mustard’s, and tomatoes.
“I know that in one of the good days it might not be me going for tiger brands but the other way around because I always make sure that the quality of my vegetables is known and promoted.”
The rejection he received from other supermarkets has been his motivation to produce high-quality products that every store wants to sell.
With the rise in agro-processing and value-adding to meet the market shift toward convenience and high-value products, Augustine has plans to collaborate with people that can teach him how to value add his raw produce into tomato source, chili source, and pan tomato source. Future strategies he is still gathering more information about.
The Effect Of The Pandemic
The pandemic and lockdown regulation measures have put a strain on the sale of this emerging farmer’s cabbages. “I am used to selling 10 000 cabbages in 3 days. I observed a decline in selling the same quantity in 3 weeks instead of three days.”
The most painful thing for me was losing my major clients to someone else, said the vegetable farmer. In his ability to see pain allow pain to shift his approach at life, that forced Augustine to be strategic and challenge his existing business model on how to sustain customers, keep them happy, and keep them coming.
Climate Change – The change in weather patterns and the Icey cold winters presented Augustine with an unprecedented challenge where on-field cabbage seedlings turned yellow in color. He applied nutrient-based fertilizer that restored the cabbage color and sped up the growth period and size of the produce.
“I feel like we are being left out. Our role in food security is not recognized and appreciated. Looking at how agriculture is proving to be one of the major tools in fighting the rate of unemployment, I think our compensation needs to be re-evaluated.”
Financial Assistance – The lack of financial assistance from both financial institutions and the government is what cripples most farmers. Emerging farmers rely solely on grants and personal loans from friends and families. Financial institutions only grant loans to farmers with collateral, says Augustine.
“I think the deglobalization of the agricultural industry will be to the advantage of the farmer especially us emerging farmers. Above all, this means the demand for our products will increase and the livelihoods of those we employ will develop simultaneously with the reduction to the current unemployment rate.”
“In contrast, my current contribution toward reducing the very high unemployment rate is very low. I currently have 3 permanent employees and 3 seasonal employees during harvesting seasons. Just imagine how much more these figures would increase with local production, sale, and consumption of agricultural goods,” says Augustine.
In closing, “I believe the 4IR is forcing every role player involved in the agricultural value chain from family farmers to global companies to redefine food production systems. Alternatively, the spread of the so-called essential eight technologies such as drones, the internet, and artificial intelligence will result in increased yields, lower production costs, and reduced environmental impact.”
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”- Marc Anthony. “I wake up every day with joy in my heart knowing that I am putting food on people’s tables. All the hard work and dedication I put in producing quality nutritious food is not in vain.
“Additionally, It feels great when it finally pays off. However, Farming is not as easy as some people make it looks, it takes passion, hard work, and a lot of positive energy.” said Pfananani Augustine Nemasisi