At 25, Msizi Dlomo has had his share of health problems. He lost his hearing the same day he was diagnosed with cancer. Dlomo tells Zolani Sinxo how he found his strength in agriculture.
I was born and raised in Kranskop, a town by the Thukela River in KwaZulu-Natal in a place called Kwasenge. Kranskop is known for its fertile soil, beautiful sunsets and sunrises.
Kwasenge is where I started and finished primary school. Shortly after, I moved to Durban to attend Mzuvele Secondary School in KwaMashu where I enrolled in 2014. I did not take any agriculture classes as they were not available at the time. Anyway, farming was not on my mind during those years.
After high school, I was eager to become a mechanical engineer. I was one of the top graphic and engineering design students since 10th grade. The plan was to take a six month break [after high school], but the unfortunate happened. I fell ill and was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer. I lost my hearing overnight after my diagnosis.
When the music stops
I was a huge music fan. Not being able to hear a sound was probably the most excruciating pain I could imagine. As I tried to understand life without hearing, I was battling cancer.
However, that never bothered me. I didn’t know much about cancer and didn’t care about the disease because the doctors had promised to do everything to help me. They also promised that I would regain my hearing after the treatment.
I never regained my hearing. I tried a hearing aid. It never worked. Somehow I made peace with being deaf for life.
I knew the sooner I made peace with him the better. Honestly, my biggest pain came from losing my hearing. It changed my view of everything I wanted for myself.
It is because of my hearing loss that I am now a farmer. My condition pushed me to discover talents that I did not know myself. Honestly, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. All that I want [to do] is to cultivate. Nothing else.
Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be here if I still heard. When I accepted my loss, I started my business, Ihlongandlebe Farming. I pretty much thought I lost my love for engineering the very night I lost my hearing.
Learning about agriculture
I have spent the past few years learning about agriculture through The Farmers’ Weekly, Internet and later also Food For Mzansi.
In December 2020, I left Durban and returned home with a desire to cultivate. I couldn’t ignore the fire burning inside me anymore. From 2018 I did an apprenticeship and saved [cash] for my farming business. At the time, I thought I needed millions to get started.
There was one thing I wanted more than anything: to raise Nguni goats like we have always had in KwaMashu. In January 2021, I bought my first shares with my savings.
However, I learned a valuable lesson after a few months. Without a monthly income, it made no sense. Goat breeding is a long-term activity. And then I realized that I needed a company with a faster turnaround.
Using information on how to plant spinach that I acquired mostly from the internet, I bought everything I needed. Seeds, seed trays and an irrigation system. I sowed my first seed in July.
Without access to water, I relied on a 5,000 liter water tank that was already leaking. I transplanted my spinach in late August and early September. Thank goodness it rained later that night. I knew my work was blessed.
In October of last year we had a terrible heat wave which seriously damaged my spinach, but I held my head high.
My whole family supported me. I grew up in a big family. I had no trouble growing up and I never lacked anything. However, I was not rich. My father believed in getting us to school and putting food on the table. It was enough.
After losing my hearing, I knew [formal] the job was not going to work out for me. People don’t really believe in people with disabilities. Self-employment made sense and I knew exactly what to do, and that was farming.
I am currently growing spinach and cabbage. I sold most of my goats to finance my agricultural production project because it made financial sense. As soon as it makes sense to buy more goats, I will.
In November 2021, about two and a half months since I ventured into crops, I started supplying spinach to my local supermarkets, Aheers Powertrade and Aheers Supermarket in Greytown. I recently supplied the Freshmark distribution center through Tshala Nathi, a youth project at iXobho.
Advice for young farmers
I am an outdoor person and agriculture allows me to be that. Growing my crops from seed to harvest is fulfilling. I am always motivated. I always want to do better. You can help the world more if you succeed, and I have a huge desire to live up to my name “Msizi”. I can only do this if I have a lot to offer the world.
So, I have to do better and be better than yesterday and so, I can contribute to bring change and thus live up to my name. My advice to other young farmers? Stop farming on Excel and go to the field. Forget waiting for government funding. It does not come and it is a fact. No one will finance a mere dream.
To start. The rest will fall into place along the way. In addition, good planning is very important. Losses are certain, but good planning will determine how much you lose.
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