NMMU graduate from Mt Frere hopes to use her MTech to improve rural farming

APRIL 8, 2016

“I MAY have come from the dusty streets of Mount Frere, with many villages having no electricity or running water, but I know I can do anything or be anything ... It doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Single mother, Fezeka Majiki, 29, achieved something most of Mount Frere’s 5 000 or so town and village residents would deem out of reach: her master’s degree in agricultural research – and she wants to use her qualification to make a real difference to farming efforts in the poverty-stricken area.

She also hopes her degree from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University will inspire her son, Elam, 9, to go on to achieve even more than she has. “He is very excited to be coming to my graduation [on April 14].” Majiki is the first isiXhosa woman to graduate with an MTech degree in agricultural research from NMMU.

“I decided to study agriculture as subsistence farming is a way of life in Mount Frere – that’s what I grew up doing.”

She is looking for a job, but hopes she will find an opportunity to implement some of the Mount Frere projects she researched for her master’s studies.

Her work focused on the government-funded crop production projects that have been initiated in Mount Frere and other parts of the former Transkei, to assist with food security – and why these have not proved to be sustainable.

Liaising with the Department of Agriculture, she was given a list of all the projects in the Mount Frere area. “I chose to work with 18 projects – one in each village. About 17 of these villages have no electricity or running water.”

She set out to determine why these projects were not thriving, and identify possible solutions.

What she found was that people who had been surviving through subsistence farming their whole lives – farming maize, beans and pumpkins using natural seeds, organic fertilisers and indigenous methods – were suddenly expected to only farm maize through the large-scale  crop production projects, which were introduced to enable subsistence farmers to start selling their produce in the market place.

The farmers had to pay large sums of money to participate in the commercial projects – more than most of them could afford – and many did not understand the high-tech machinery (which contractors bring each year to plant the seeds) and planting techniques, or the chemical fertilisers and treated seeds they were given, with the result that the crops were not successful, and some of their livestock had even died due to contaminated fields (from over-fertilising).

“The government needs to train and empower the people … There should also be community outreach projects to get everyone involved, including the youth. The youth have the perception that agriculture is backward, but they need to be made aware that agriculture is a way of life.”

Majiki feels there should be an integration of modern and indigenous farming methods. “Back in the day, when there was only subsistence farming, people feel they were getting much better crops and a better return.

“I’d like to be part of the solution. The people do want the [crop production] projects.”

Majiki said her son, her mother (teacher Koliswa Majiki) and her grandmother (subsistence farmer Caslina Kolweni, who died in November 2014) were her inspiration. "These two women taught me the importance of prayer in one's life and that through prayer, all things are possible. They taught me to put God first in every endeavour I embark on; God has been my pillar of strength throughout.

“They also taught not to let things go if I can do something about it.”

She said her lecturer, Dr Tim Pittaway, had also inspired her in her studies. “At the time I met Dr Pittaway, he was doing his doctorate. He told me he felt I could reach this level, that I had so much potential. After that, I felt nothing was going to stop me. When I registered for my masters, I had no funding, but he encouraged me to register anyway. Fortunately, I did get bursaries to cover the two years.”

Image: WELL DONE, MUM … Mount Frere single mother and master’s graduate Fezeka Majiki will be joined by son Elam, 9, at her graduation ceremony at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.