Mentorship creates a platform for growth

Published: 6 February 2020

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Although Liana Stroebel, Grain SA’s provincial co-ordinator in the Western Cape, is not a mentor in Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme, she might as well be seen as one. According to the definition, a mentor is a trusted advisor – someone who is willing to spend his or her time and expertise to guide the development of another person. This enthusiastic young lady enjoys the role she plays in assisting developing farmers from Heidelberg to Piketberg to achieve their agricultural goals. She currently focuses on the main grain producing areas of the Swartland, Overberg and Southern Cape regions.

As a provincial co-ordinator, her role is being able to identify a farmer’s needs and to work towards addressing those needs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Whether it is challenges with input suppliers, equipment, record-keeping, marketing, labour, diversification, conservation agriculture or funding.

Passionate about agriculture
Liana says that since she can remember, she has always loved animals, being outdoors and getting her hands dirty. Therefore, studying agriculture was the only natural option. ‘I studied Agricultural Management at NMMU at Saasveld in George, after which I did a bachelor’s degree in International Livestock Production in the Netherlands.’ She also completed her master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of the Free State. ‘Through my studies and working on various farms in between, my respect for nature, sustainable farming systems and the plight and needs of the producer developed.’

In 2013 Liana started working at the Grain SA Western Cape office in Paarl, which opened in 2012. Initially, her tasks focused mainly on information transfer through study group meetings, farmer training courses and the Pula Imvula newsletter. Over the years, as the farmers evolved, their needs have also changed and with that the type of support needed. Various new add-ons and initiatives have been introduced, such as assisting farmers with business plans, helping them to apply for funding and aiding them to diversify their businesses to reduce risk.

She currently oversees 24 farming entities – some consisting of single farmers and others of larger groups such as cooperatives, trusts or equity scheme projects. She tries to visit these farmers as often as possible, depending on their various needs. ‘Some farmers are assisted more intensively at certain times, which may differ among members according to their immediate needs,’ she explains.

Farm visit discussions vary. Sometimes it involves planning consultations with input suppliers, economists and marketing agents as well as checking crop progress and identifying challenges. Other times there are meetings with the farmers and other commodity representatives regarding streamlining the sheep or livestock enterprises to effectively slot in with the farmers’ grain production. Planning meetings with mentors and sometimes even playing a mediation role when there are challenges among group members, are also part of the package.

She is passionate and excited about agriculture as ‘it is the most important job in the world’. Liana finds working as a provincial co-ordinator an extremely satisfying occupation. ‘It is just amazing to witness how individuals grow and develop over time. At the end of the day, we can only create a platform and present opportunities, but ultimately it is up to the farmer to decide what he/she does with that opportunity.’

Liana shares that one of the most important things that she has learnt over the years is that everyone grows at their own pace. No two individuals, two regions, two farms or even two camps on the same farm are similar. ‘Many institutions tend to want to class or categorise farmers into bulky boxes and support is too often generalised. Our farmers need to start promoting their individuality!’

In the winner’s corner
The majority of Grain SA farmers in the Western Cape fall within the advanced farmer category as they farm with winter grains which require more hectares to be profitable. They therefore rely heavily on equipment, input suppliers and cooperatives and not just the guidance of a single mentor.

In 2019 Liana was involved in the farming operations of two of the three finalists in the Grain SA/­Absa/John Deere Financial New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year category.

‘This year we entered two candidates from the Western Cape for this category. Alfreda Mars and Andries van der Poll are two farmers who have grown with leaps and bounds over the last five years.’ According to Liana both farmers are business-minded and have always been driven, dedicated and passionate about farming. They also make it their business to read, talk to industry role-players, invest everything they have back into their businesses and better themselves at every chance they get. ‘These farmers and their families are very hard-working, focused and humble human beings. Farmers like these make our job easy because we only need to present an opportunity and they will grab it with both hands and run with it.’

Of course, the Western Cape office was very excited when Andries van der Poll was announced as the winner.

Advice for mentees
Liana firmly believes that everyone needs a mentor in all aspects of their lives as the power of mentorship is an investment in development and is mutually beneficial for both parties involved. ‘We need to recognise that everyone needs a mentor – whether it be in farming, family affairs or religion. There are always people that know more than us, have more experience and have made mistakes from which we can learn to better ourselves.’

So, if you do not have one, find a mentor who inspires you and will invest in your growth and well-being. Find a mentor and then pay it forward by becoming one too.