Highvelder: Solomon’s a-‘maize’-ing story

“I know I have proven that I can farm successfully. All I want is to be able to settle on a farm and be allowed to produce food. That is what farming is all about.”

Solomon Masango (36) is a young farmer who grew up in the Carolina district and has a truly amazing story to tell.

He currently farms on a hired stretch of land just north of Carolina that he is transforming from nothing to one of the healthiest and potentially best yielding maize and soy fields per hectare in the district.

The pride and knowledgeable enthusiasm with which Solomon shows off his 90 ha maize crop and 90 ha soy bean crop is a tell-tale sign that his dream of becoming a commercial farmer is well within his reach, given the right opportunity and support. He also has a herd of cattle grazing on the farm.

Things didn’t come easily for Solomon. He has had to stand up against some unpleasant red tape and obstacles put in his way, but his tenacity and will to farm has already earned him the title of “Farmer of the Year”.

Solomon’s story began seven years ago when the Ubuhle Uyazenzela Communal Property Association (CPA), of which he is a member, acquired a farm in a land claim settlement.

He then made an application to work the land, which at that time was lying fallow.

From the outset he made it clear that he did not want to farm on the property for free, so that the other members would be able to receive dividends.

In 2009 he started working on a 50 ha section of the farm with one tractor. He hired only one guard and they worked day and night, rotating day and night shifts between them.

When government authorities saw the progress Solomon was making with the meagre means at his disposal, they stepped in and assisted him with two more tractors, along with two drivers.

Initially the yield was only 20 bags of maize per hectare. With hard work and sheer determination, Solomon used the money from the 2009 crop to buy a second tractor for himself. This enabled him to work only during the day and in 2010 he increased the hectares to 100.

By 2011 he was able to buy a third tractor and was now working 200 ha, producing an average of 3.5 tonnes per hectare.

The following year he received an offer of financial assistance from Afgri and the Department of Agriculture, mentorship from Agri SA and expert advice from Grain SA.

In 2013 he was able to hire more employees and equipment and was working 300 ha with a yield of between four and five tonnes per hectare.

“Only at this stage was I able to show a small profit,” said Solomon.
Still determined to achieve more success and provide more employment opportunities, in 2015 Solomon increased the hectares to 450, now split between 300 ha soy beans and 100 ha of maize.

That same year he was voted Grain SA Farmer of the Year, but according to Solomon, this was when the problems began.

“Certain members of the CPA ordered me off that farm, because, according to them, it was making me too rich.

“I then approached the Department of Land Affairs in Ermelo and explained to them that I was being chased from the farm and I wanted to carry on farming. I told them I had the necessary equipment and was successful, so I needed land where I could farm.”

The matter was taken to court, but the CPA members who had arrived at the court by the busload managed to convince the magistrate that Solomon was using their land to make himself rich and claimed they were not benefiting financially, even though he had proof of regular payments which far exceeded the norm.
The court then ordered him to leave the farm.

Solomon left, taking his tractors and equipment with him and started over again on the adjacent farm, which he hires from the Santungane Trust. He hired some of the labourers he had worked with on the CPA farm to help him out. In addition to providing jobs, he also made his tractor and equipment available to them to work their own small tracts of land on the CPA farm where they were still officially employed.

These actions landed him in court again on charges of disobeying an eviction order.

“But luckily, this time I had a lawyer who put forward a very convincing argument.
“I told the court the people could not chase me from that farm, because I was the one that was providing food for the very people who were chasing me away.”This time the court found in favour of Solomon, but he is afraid to go back to the CPA farm for fear of intimidation.

“That’s how I ended up on the present farm. I hire the farm from the trust on a five-year lease contract.
“At first some of the members of the trust were reluctant, but they had seen how successful I had farmed on the CPA farm and I was granted permission to lease the land.”

Solomon is now looking to government to allocate a suitable farm to him on which he can carry on farming without fear of eviction.

“I know I have proven that I can farm successfully. All I want is to be able to settle on a farm and be allowed to produce food. That is what farming is all about.”