Interview with Walter Khumalo

Interview with Walter Khumalo, a farm management student from the Esayidi TVET College and participant in the Harry Gwala Agri In-service Training Programme

Walter Khumalo, a farm management student from the Esayidi TVET College in Umzimkhulu, was one of the participants in the Harry Gwala Agri In-service Training Programme in 2018. He obtained his training at the Hauff’s dairy farm in the Eastwolds area near Donnybrook and has recently been given an opportunity through the Future Farmers Foundation to travel to the USA to spend a year working on a dairy farm in California. Harry Gwala Agri wanted to find out a bit more about this young, successful, upcoming farmer and were able to catch up with him just before he left the country for the States. These were his answers to our questions: 

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Where were you born and schooled?

I was born in Port Shepstone, KZN in 1992 and completed my schooling in 2010 at kwaMasosha High School. 

What is your best childhood memory?

Farming with my grandfather who showed me how to grow vegetables and look after cattle. 

Tell me a bit about your family, what do your parents do and how many siblings do you have?

I was raised by my mom and grandparents and have one younger sister. My mom works at a hotel in Port Shepstone and my dad works for an oil-related company in Durban. 

When did you decide that you would like to pursue a career in agriculture?

Farming with my grandfather obviously had quite an impression on me and it was when I was in my matric year that I made a decision to pursue this career path and enrolled at Gamalakhe TVET College near Port Shepstone to study Primary Agriculture.  

You stopped studying for a year after you obtained your National Certificate in Primary Agriculture. What was the reason for not continuing with your studies at that point?

I actually wanted to go straight to the Esayidi TVET College in Umzimkhulu in 2014 to start my National Diploma in Farm Management but was disappointed to find that there were no longer places available for this course. My lecturer at Gamalakhe College however helped by identifying an opportunity for me to gain part-time work experience on a dairy farm near Paddock which I was grateful for. In the same year I completed a part-time course in advanced computer literacy through Avuxeni Computer Academy which has proven to be very helpful. The following year I was able to start my diploma at Esayidi. 

When you were selected to be involved in our programme and were given an opportunity to gain work experience on the Hauff’s farm, you had at that stage already obtained 12 of the 18 months of in-service training you required for your qualification. Where did you spend those 12 months?

I obtained a years’ worth of experience on a banana, honey and macadamia nut farm near Ramsgate and was given an offer to be an assistant manager there but then towards the end of the year had a bad bike accident and was off my feet for five weeks. It was during this time that I heard about the Harry Gwala Agri In-service Training Programme and the possibility of obtaining work experience on dairy farms which is really where my passion lies and so I jumped at it. 

What have you most enjoyed about doing your in-service training at the Hauff’s dairy farm?

I love being in the dairy but have also enjoyed opportunities to work elsewhere on the farm to get a better idea of how a dairy farm of this scale operates. The highlight for me was being given the responsibility of managing the dairy over a weekend when the other management staff were on leave. 

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What was the toughest part of the ‘job’?

Having to wake up at midnight to assist during the calving season!

What has been the most valuable thing you have learnt at college that has prepared you for work on a commercial farm?

Learning how to work with people – to listen – and to respect others. This has prepared me for working besides others on commercial farms. 

You now have an opportunity to go to the USA with the Future Farmers Programme, what are you most excited about?

The opportunity to see a different method of operating a dairy farm. The one I am going to in California uses the Total Mixed Ration method of feeding dairy cows as opposed to pastures which is what I have been exposed to up until now. The dairy I am going to milks 650 cows three times per day. 

What are you most nervous about?

Fortunately this is not the first time I am going to a different country outside of Africa so do not really feel nervous. In 2013 I was given the opportunity through Gamalakhe College to go on an exchange program to Sweden to learn about their culture and how agriculture is done in their country. 

Is there any specific thing you are hoping to do or see while you are in the USA?

I am looking forward to experiencing a new culture. Part of the programme over there will also allow us opportunity to see some of the countryside such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains which will be great. 

What are you hoping to do once you return?

I am hoping to get straight back in to work when I return in July 2020 but I will also be looking at options for studying further as I am interested in working towards a degree in agricultural extension. This would require one year to obtain as it builds on the diploma of farm management I now have. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

My dream would be to be operating my own dairy farm somewhere within the Harry Gwala District Municipality but dairies are very expensive to set up. Second prize would be to own my own livestock farm doing either beef cattle or poultry.

Was there a time in your life when you felt unmotivated and unhopeful about your future?

Yes. I really did not enjoy my time working on the banana/macadamia nut farm as I do not have a passion for this sort of farming. I was at times tempted to quit but knew I needed the experience to contribute towards getting my diploma and that I did not want to find myself sitting at home doing nothing. So I waited until another opportunity presented itself and was grateful when I heard about the Harry Gwala Agri In-service Training Programme. 

Who or what has had the biggest influence in your life?

My sister. She is very wise and has even written a book which she will be launching soon. She is a real inspiration to me and motivates me to never give up. 

What advice would you give a student who is about to start their in-service training?

Even if you have obtained a qualification in agriculture with distinction you need to put it aside because it may make you think that you can go straight on to a commercial farm and become the manager, but this is not the case. You need to be prepared to start at the very bottom because it is only through doing this that you will begin to learn the very basics about how a commercial farm operates. You need to be prepared to learn about the aspects of the farm that do not interest you as these all play an important role in the running of the farm.

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We wish Walter every bit of success in the USA and are certain that it will be another significant milestone in his journey towards a successful career in agriculture in South Africa.

We would also like to thank the Hauff family for creating the opportunity for Walter to gain valuable work experience on their farm and to Pannar and Standard Bank whose funding has made it possible for us to establish this in-service training programme.