'Working with Mother Earth'

SUGARY: Sugar cane is used to make sugar, a sweetening agent for medicine, food and drinks.
SUGARY: Sugar cane is used to make sugar, a sweetening agent for medicine, food and drinks.

'As long as people need to eat, there will always be crop production and jobs'

DID YOU know that the word "sugar" comes from a Sanskrit word "sharkara" meaning gritty material?

Sugar dates back thousands of years and was once a commodity flaunted by nobility to show off their wealth and power.

Today sugar cane is grown in more than 120 countries and used in millions of products - from medicines, cosmetics to ice cream and syrup.

Right next door to the Kruger National Park, in a town called Malelane, you'll find Theo Chiyoka working in the sugar cane industry.

Chiyoka, now a general manager at TSB Sugar, has been growing crops for the past 27 years having started his career at grass roots level in Zimbabwe.

He soon developed a deep passion for Mother Earth and her yield and believes in the old saying that the best fertiliser is the farmer's own footsteps.

"It's a misconception that anyone can farm," he laughs. "You have to be passionate about it. If you don't love plants they won't grow well in your hands."

Crop production management isn't only about sowing seeds at the right time and giving them sunlight, water and fertiliser. It's a science that starts right from soil analysis, finding out which crops will thrive in a particular soil and understanding plant physiology and irrigation requirements.

With a whopping 12,500 hectares of sugar cane in his care, Chiyoka has proved his mettle in agriculture by working hard to get where he is today and prepared to make some sacrifices along the way.

He started out with a diploma in agriculture but felt he needed something more.

"I knew that I wouldn't be able to go into more senior management positions without a higher qualification, so I went back to varsity and got my degree in agronomy."

It wasn't easy hitting the books after working for many years, but Theo was determined and put many hours into his studies. He also has a Masters degree in strategic management.

Crop production management is a career which doesn't keep regular office hours. You may "knock off" at 4pm, but you're always contemplating and planning in your head and out in the field the crops are growing. The biggest challenge that crop production managers face is the uncertainty .

You don't control the weather and other outside influences, such as the exchange rate, which can also have an impact on your business.

"People often forget that farming and crop production is a business and an intricate one at that," says Chiyoka.

"The decisions you make have a direct impact on your profitability."

Chiyoka knows just how tough it is when Mother Nature throws a curve ball.

He was farming cotton north of the Limpopo when more than 2000 hectares of pristine crop was wiped out by the floods in early 2000.

"It's not an easy game to be in, but when you win, you do feel a real sense of accomplishment in your achievement and ability," he notes.

Chiyoka is passionate about the land and producing crops and says he hopes to be able to encourage the youth to consider a career in farming.

"But as long as people need to eat, there will always be crop production and jobs.

"There isn't a quick fix for a good career. It takes hard work and determination to be a success in what you do. Farming is a career in which you can excel if you're willing to work hard." - sacareerfocus

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