Sibisi driven by the spirit of unity among farmers

Ntando Sibisi has found his true calling in tobacco farming after years of working in different sectors.

He is the chairperson and founder of the Black Tobacco Farmers Association.

Sibisi was born in 1965 in Buffelspruit, Mpumalanga. His parents were subsistence farmers - growing maize, peanuts and sweet potatoes. He also enjoyed looking after livestock such as cattle, goats, chickens and pigs.

It was in this farming environment that he learnt hard work and diligence. On weekends he had to wake up as early as 5am and work in the fields or milk the cows.

On certain days he would come back from school and work in the fields as this was what the family was dedicated to. At times he had to bring the cattle from the pastures to his father's kraal in the afternoons.

Due to an unstable political environment, Sibisi completed high school in Swaziland.

He returned to SA to look for better opportunities. He worked at the Kruger National Park as a tracker. His job was to trace the animals in the reserve for the tourists to know where to find them.

He spent about five years in this job.

He also had a short stint in the South African army in the 1980s.

"My intention was not to carry a rifle and go to war. I just wanted to understand what is it that is done in the army. It was just curiosity that made me join the army, it was never my dream job," said Sibisi.

He quit the army in 1990 as the job did not give him any sense of fulfillment.

It was in 2007 when Sibisi life's changed while he was working at the Kruger National Park. He began to ask himself real questions about life.

"I realised that you do not grow if you depend on working for another person. I asked myself why can't I work for myself?"

With this thought nagging him, Sibisi registered a company, which specialised in carpentry. He went for training and started working as a carpenter in Cape Town.

"At that time the Western Cape had a lot of opportunities for my business, that is why I started there," he said.

His company specialised in roofing houses, floors and installing cupboards and also worked as a sub-contractor building RDP houses.

But it was not easy for him working away from home and not getting enough time to spend with his wife and children.

"I realised I pay everything twice. I have to have a plate for myself here in Cape Town and also provide food for my family in Nkomazi. I also had to pay rent and still send money back home to my family."

He decided to go back home to start a new life - becoming a tobacco farmer.

"The climate is very conducive to tobacco in my village. It was the first thing I thought I could do as a farmer," he said.

By 2013, Sibisi had established himself as a tobacco farmer.

He worked with a group of farmers and they formed a cooperative.

"I realised that the farmers did not produce as much as they could. I told them that there is no reason for us not to make good profit because the land is ours. If the land is ours then we are not producing for anybody but ourselves. Their perception changed, we worked harder and were able to be more productive," Sibisi said.

He started with 11 farmers working as a cooperative. They standardised their methods of farming and sold to the same buyers.

In the 2015 harvest season, Sibisi and his colleagues started reaping the benefits of their hard work.

The group of farmers has grown to 53 and they are now farming 55 hectares of land. Each farmer is able to produce 140 tons a season.

He said to be able to cover the cost of production, each farmer had to produce above 1.7tons to be profitable.

This week, Sibisi launched the Black Tobacco Farmers Association to help black farmers in the tobacco industry.

The association already has 150 black farmers spread across the country.

These farmers are in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Eastern Cape.

Despite the organisation growing in numbers, Sibisi admits that the illegal cigarette trade poses a threat to the sector.

"It is the biggest threat we face as farmers. We are supplying the right producers who pay tax but the market is full of illegal producers," he said.

According to the Tobacco Institute of South Africa,
30-billion cigarettes are sold in SA in a year.

Only 17-billion come from the legal industry, while the rest gets into the market without tax being paid.

Sibisi is married and has two children.

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