August 2015

ESTIE DE VILLIERS, editor: SA Graan/Grain

imageMs Jenny Mathews, producer from Sannieshof in the North West Province, has been very involved in organised agriculture in the past years. She was the first women to serve as a Grain SA member of the executive and is still chairman of the board of the Grain Farmer Development Association (GFADA).

“When I finished my teaching career in 2000 I had the specific intention of becoming a producer and a partner in our family farming enterprise. I started out as a Charolais stud cattle and sheep producer and grew maize under the mentorship of my husband, John. I had always been intrigued by the activities of the producer organisation Grain SA, which I was quite well-informed about by our cousin and active Grain SA member of the executive, Derek Mathews. It was his inspiration that motivated me to join the ranks of this active producer organisation which keeps its finger on the pulse of the grain industry.

“It was an honour to represent the producers of Delareyville, Barberspan and Sannieshof and I believe it is an honour to say that I was the first woman to serve as a Grain SA member of the executive from March 2005 – March 2012. I however still continue to serve as a representative for Grain SA in my position as chairman of the board of GFADA,” Jenny said.

What made her get involved?

Jenny believes that we only have one life to live and a responsibility to live it well. “I truly believe it’s not okay to stand by and watch others lobby for my cause unless I am doing my bit too,” she said. When she realised that as a family they are committed to the soils of South Africa and her three sons all showed early signs of choosing life in South Africa – and a life on the soil, she decided that she would do what she could to keep her finger on the pulse of agriculture in South Africa.

Challenges for emerging farmers

Jenny has been very involved in developing agriculture – especially since she joined the Grain SA executive. “The educator in me was very excited to learn about Grain SA’s dedicated Grain Farmer Development programme, headed up by the dynamic Ms Jane McPherson, so I immediately signed up to be a member of that working group. I had wanted to find a way to make a small contribution towards the healing of this land and I saw this as an opportunity. This encounter changed my life. I recently told Jane that she, together with her awesome, incredible team of beautiful people, opened my eyes to something truly wonderful happening at grassroots agriculture; and the farmers who I have met along the way, have changed my heart.

“I have met so many beautiful people who work hard, long hours with a smile on their faces. They see my heart and not the colour of my skin. My motto has become: ‘It’s not the colour of our skin, but the colour of our heart that matters.’” According to Jenny many of the emerging farmers’ challenges are exactly the same as for commercial producers, since agriculture in general is extremely stressed and profitability is under heavy pressure. “Producers are just struggling to survive, especially after the terrible 2014/2015 season which saw many crop failures. This is exacerbated for many emerging farmers because they struggle to access finance for inputs and they often do not hold the title to their farms so they can’t use the land as security. The truly dedicated farmers who I have met are hard workers who not only need mentorship and education, but also recapitalisation funding to ensure that their businesses get a fair chance of survival. Just to give any man or woman a piece of land is not a recipe for successful land reform,” she said.

Advice to producers’ wives

Jenny laughs when asked what advice she has for producers’ wives. “This is a toughie – I want to say something lovely, like ‘Always be supportive and ready with a kind, encouraging word…’, but in truth, I have sometimes been so frustrated and weary from the uphill struggle, that I have hassled my poor husband many times! The thing that impacts me more than the economies of farming is the political negativity which makes it feel like producers are made out to be the worst people in the country and this onslaught on producers seem unending. The political games that are played around land issues makes me so sad – and yet it is the beautiful hearts of the producers all over this country which lifts me up and fills me with a passion for South Africa, energises me and gives me hope once more.

“My advice therefore to producers’ wives is: Find your passion. Discover what your true purpose in life is. Press into the Father’s heart and find that place which fulfils you and reveals His purpose for you. That is what will give happiness and from that will spring the energy to be the involved, supportive and encouraging producer’s wife you need to be,” she concluded.

More about Jenny

  • Jenny was born and educated in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal and studied at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg,where she met her husband, John.
  • They worked on the Ncora Irrigation Scheme in the then Transkei and she taught at Falo Senior Secondary in the Cofimvaba district. John was then given an opportunity to farm on the family farm near Sannieshof where they currently grow maize, sunflowers and groundnuts and raise livestock.
  • They have three sons. Today the boys are all farming with them, adding new ideas and skills to the business and raising the new generation with their wives.

Publication: August 2015

Section: Relevant