Bongani Sibeko: "King of the Jungle"

Our latest Star of Buhle, Bongani Sibeko, feels like “the king of the jungle”.

“Farmers control everything in the world,” he says. “No-one starts the day, or ends the day, without eating something. All that we have, comes from farming.”

Bongani farms cattle, sheep, chicken and soya on the farm Watervalsoek, in the Gert Sibande District of Mpumalanga’s Govan Mbeki Municipality.

He studied Crop Production at Buhle in 2011 and subsequently was chosen to be part of project in which Buhle, Sasol and the Land Bank together provide the package of mentorship, financial support and land that new farmers need to grow their farming businesses.

He now has 100ha of soya as well as 120 cattle, 120 sheep, 94 lambs and 75 chicken layers.

His land is leased, in a 30-year agreement, through the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Proud to be a farmer, he believes that agriculture provides humans with a connection with nature, bringing us back to who we really are. “Look at what farmers do when there is an attack or a disaster,” he says. “They stand up together. When there’s a fire, look how many cars and people are there, helping one another. That is true human nature.

“You see it on farms, but you don’t always see it in urban areas.”

“On the day you graduate, it’s as if you’re starting a marriage,” he says. “You need to be on your farm 24/7. I’m forever at the farm.”

In November 2019 Bongani received the Star of Buhle award, which recognises graduates who have achieved exceptional achievement in agriculture. He is a married father of three children, all of whom are still at school, and his farming business enables him to support his family, although it is not always easy.

“I try by all means to put 80% of the profits back to the business,” he says. “Let me be honest: farming is a long-term thing. It’s not something you can just do in 10 years, and then you’re done. There are lots of dynamics at play.” 

That’s why Bongani is “forever pushing” to grow his business and to cultivate his natural innovative spirit. “There is nothing that will just come to you. With the government, with any business, if you sit back and wait for someone to help you, you’ll wait forever.”

He briefly ran a cattle business with his brothers, and currently serves as district chairperson and deputy provincial chairperson of the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (Nerpo). He is using that platform to encourage other farmers to join the red meat value chain. He also taps into resources like the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which provides training through the support of extension officers.

Like all South African farmers, Bongani knows how tough agriculture can be. “We’ve had drought, veld fires… many challenges,” he says. “Just recently week a portion of the farm burnt, and then it happened again to another portion. That affected 70% of the grazing part of my farm. Thankfully it was not the arable part, and I had enough fodder to see me through.”

When his boreholes ran dry, he used rainwater from a neighbouring dam, fetching and carrying it to his own land. “I have drilled another borehole, but it’s not yet ready due to finances, so I’m trying to make another plan,” he says. “I’m waiting for a few payments and will equip it as soon as I get the cash.”

The hard work is paying off. Bongani planted about 40 ha of soya in 2016/17, then 80 ha in 2017/18, and had planted 100 ha in 2018/19 before the fire. “My farm is growing,” he says. “I’ve made big progress.”

Even when he speaks about his challenges, Bongani’s enthusiasm and positive attitude shines through. “If you don’t love farming, you won’t make it in this industry,” he smiles. “It’s not easy out there. But I love it, because no-one pushes you except yourself.”

Introducing Buhle

There are many thousands of new farmers in South Africa who have access to arable land but don't have the skills, guidance and capital they need to grow a viable farming business. Buhle Farmers’ Academy is a non-profit organisation that trains, mentors and supports these aspiring farmers. We offer holistic courses covering all the farming and management skills that new farmers need (see Programme section for more details), and trainees come from all over the country to learn at our campus near Delmas, Mpumalanga. Our farmer support offices mentor as many of our graduates as possible, and we manage several programme providing financial support to some of our most promising alumni.  Since we opened our doors in the year 2000 we have grown from strength to strength, and have now trained about 6 000 emerging farmers - half of them women and 60% of them youth - in vegetable, crops, poultry and livestock production, and mixed farming. Even better, about 12 000 jobs have been created due to Buhle, based on the assumption that for every new farmer established, at least one additional job is created.  Our Mission Buhle’s mission is train and support aspiring farmers from across South Africa to run farming businesses that are both profitable and sustainable. The effect is that we are helping to alleviate poverty by creating jobs, while ensuring food security.  Over the years, Buhle has developed a best-practice model that could help make a huge difference in helping to transform agriculture in South Africa. In the rural and poorest areas of our country, the biggest employers are government, agriculture and mining. Most of these employers are unlikely to radically increase their take-up of employees. Our biggest hope lies in developing a culture of entrepreneurship, and agriculture is one of the key sectors for doing so. Universities and training colleges are expensive and have strict academic entrance criteria, which many aspiring farmers cannot fulfil. They need accessible, practical training with the follow-up coaching and support that enables them to overcome the myriad, unpredictable challenges of agriculture. Buhle fulfils these needs.

Our History In the years after 1994 – when South Africa became a democracy – our newspapers were peppered with stories of how farming ventures fail after being handed over to black farmers. It became clear that transferring land was simply not enough. Emerging farmers also needed farming skills and ongoing mentorship.

A group of concerned citizens with agricultural expertise decided to address this problem. In the year 2000, they got together to form the Food Health Hope Foundation and, under its auspices, Buhle – meaning “It is good” – was established. Our founding partner was Monsanto, now Bayer, who donated to us the fertile land that became our training farm and gave us the start-up capital we needed. We developed our first curriculum in conjunction with Tshwane University of Technology, focusing on vegetable production as it has a short production cycle. Two years later, we added poultry, livestock and crop production courses. In 2004, we registered the Buhle Farmers’ Academy as an NPO in order to continue our fundraising efforts. We have grown from strength to strength over the years. From our first cohort of 57 students in the year 2000, we trained over 500 in 2018, and we have now trained almost 6 000 farmers over the years. Our heartfelt thanks go to every one of our funding partners. With your backing and partnership, we are indeed fulfilling our mission: to transform dreams into reality for many thousands of aspiring farmers.

Our Approach

Buhle has developed a best-practice model for training aspiring farmers, which includes:

  • A sound theoretical knowledge base in agricultural technology
  • Competency based practical skills training
  • Training in farm business management
  • Training in appropriate life skills
  • Effective follow-up and support services.
 

Our People

Our staff are the people who make it all happen, and behind us is the highest authority of our organisation, the Board of Trustees of the Food Health Hope Foundation. The Board oversees our vision, mission and activities. Motivated entirely by their sense of philanthropy, they donate their time, knowledge, experience and prestige to help grow and guide the Buhle Farmers’ Academy. A picture of our staff on each campus is below, and underneath that is a list of our board of trustees.   buhle-staff-2015

Our Partners

Our heartfelt thanks go to every one of our partners, who make our work possible: