Growing food is a means for all of us to grow food security and starve poverty

Olga Nkoana from Mamogaleskraal in Brits was first encouraged by government to get into agriculture to help create food security and alleviate poverty. She convinced some friends and relatives to join her in this noble pursuit and formed GMMM Co-operative Limited (GMMM) to do just that.

Today, GMMM is a well-established farming enterprise that uses horticultural and hydroponic farming techniques to grow vegetables, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture. GMMM also produces grains such as barley, which is supplied to the likes of Heineken and Soufflet Malt breweries.

Olga says that to succeed as a farmer, you have to focus on being the best in your industry, and the rest will follow. Focusing on being the best, led to her receiving a Female Entrepreneur Award as well as a Best Female Smallholder Farmer Award from AFGRI. 

One of the prizes she received was a two-month course in grain farming at a university in China, an opportunity that she would have not had otherwise. And as they say, the rest is history. By now, you are probably as keen as we are to start following in Olga and GMMM’s farming footsteps, and as it turns out, grain farming is actually a great place to start. 

Apart from barley, some of the other major grains grown in South Africa are sorghum, rice and white and yellow corn. Many of our grains are either processed for other products, such as cereals, alcohol, cooking oils, and even cosmetics and fuels, or used to feed livestock. 

The most significant grain is corn (both white and yellow), as it is processed to create dietary staples such as maize and flour. It also represents about 30% of the total gross value of agricultural production in our country. Just last year, for example, we produced a record 16.9 million tonnes of corn, of which nearly 20% was exported to the likes of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

South Africa is a net exporter of corn, which simply means we produce enough for local consumption and that there is typically a surplus that can be exported as well. In fact, together with China, Brazil and Argentina, South Africa is one of the top four corn producers in the world, whose collective production accounts for more than 65% of what is consumed globally.

Due to this constant and consistent market demand, corn farming is a viable option to explore. On top of that, global corn prices are currently at their highest levels in years. This is predominantly because of La Niña, which causes droughts in South America and affects Brazil and Argentina.

Interestingly though, although it causes dry conditions in those parts of the world, La Niña typically brings high rainfall to many parts of Africa. Should you be considering corn farming, now would be a favourable time to get started. However, do note that while the earning potential is indeed high, the start-up costs are also high, so be sure to do your homework properly. The four most critical elements you need to look at are: 

  1. Choosing the right grains
    Choose grains that are ideal for your specific climate and will flourish in the type of soil you have.
  2. Knowing when to plant
    Plant at the right time so you can get the most out of your harvest and meet the market demand at exactly the right time.
  3. Maintaining optimal conditions
    Work with agricultural specialists to help you manage your soil quality and control pests and diseases.
  4. Looking at best harvesting conditions 
    Understand when and under which conditions it’s best to harvest your crops and what equipment is needed for the harvest.

Taking a leaf out of Olga and GMMM’s book, working with your local Department of Agriculture is definitely a good starting point, as they will be able to help you choose the right grains and understand when to plant and what harvest conditions are best. 

Once you’re up and running, partner with your local farming specialists from Laeveld Agrochem, who will help you maintain your soil quality and protect your crops from pests and diseases. For more info, simply go to Follow @NicheFarmers on Facebook to connect, learn and share with other emerging farmers.