At only 22-years-old, Maano Khodani is already making a mark in the tough business of commercial agriculture, and his latest project involves garlic farming. Khodani started farming at 16-years-old already after quitting school because he said he was bored with only learning theory. Besides the garlic farm, he also runs a piggery, a vegetable farm, and has some cattle.
And to ensure that his businesses continue to grow, he has enrolled to study an agriculture course at a local TVET college. He farms on tribal trust communal land in his home village of Divhane in the Vhembe district of Limpopo. So far, he employs two people and hopes to grow his staff complement significantly. For now, though, Khodani is focused on growing his garlic farming venture.
So far, he has planted one hectare of garlic, after initially starting with only eight rows to determine whether the soil was suitable for the crop. His clients include independent vegetable vendors and retailers who buy directly from him. “I wanted a crop which is scarce because it doesn’t have too much competition like tomatoes. I will plant ginger, then rice also,” he said. But the planting process is no bed of roses and finding a market for the produce is an even bigger challenge that confronts small-scale farmers like Khodani.
“I had an instance where I failed to get the estimated profits I had initially calculated. I ended up getting a very low income. Currently, I find my target markets before planting so that even if I end up selling for a lesser price, I will still get something out of it,” he said. Last year, garlic prices increased dramatically due to the Covid-19 lockdown, which hampered the delivery of imports from other countries into South Africa.
Also, the lockdown came into effect just as the local garlic harvesting season was coming to an end.
According to a report from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on garlic, the plant is sold through different marketing channels. They include national fresh produce markets, retailers, restaurants and processors. While South Africa exports garlic to other countries, it is estimated that over the past decade, its imports from China, Spain and Egypt have doubled to around 3,000 tonnes per year.
Market research indicates that China is the world’s leading producer at over 66% of world output with India second, followed by South Korea, Egypt, Russia and Bangladesh. South Africa is not a major producer of garlic, however, there’s been a huge demand for the crop, which is often used together with ginger and lemon, even in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Khodani does not belong to an agricultural organisation and has never benefited from any government assistance. He used the money he made working with his father, a cabinetmaker, to set up his farming enterprise.
However, he has applied for a grant from the government’s Covid-19 relief funds and hopes that if he is successful, he can acquire more land to grow his business. “Most youths do not want to be hands-on on the field. But the profits are fulfilling if you work hard,” he said.