Making the most of a small farm

November 1, 2012

Nanina Japhet 'NJ' Madonsela is the winner of the NCT top tree farmer award for farmers operating on communal land. He manages a stand of five ha of wattle at Matimatolo near Greytown.

Nj award
NJ receives his award from NCT Chairman Harald Niebuhr.


The land allocated to NJ by the traditional authority was infested with wattle jungle, which he converted to a sustainable wattle plantation.

He implements excellent silvicultural practices which are easily evident on his farm. He uses natural regeneration methods to establish his wattle, but lines his rows neatly and thins to recommended wattle stocking levels.

He runs a neat harvesting operation and cuts his stumps to ground level to make it easier to work in the compartments.

The entire farm is well protected with boundary firebreaks and as an extra precaution, he ploughs his inter-rows in case a fire jumps the boundary firebreak. The perimeter is also fenced to protect his trees from stray animals.

He has subdivided his plantation into different age classes so he can harvest trees every year and maintain a decent cash flow.

NJ's philosophy is to focus on forestry and never compromise on firebreaks. "Plough your inter-rows if you are a small farmer with no fire fighting equipment, and you will sleep well at night," he advises.

NJ grew up on a dairy farm in the Greytown area, herding cattle and later working in the kitchen. He eventually started his own taxi business and opened a bottle store. However, he sold both of those business to concentrate on forestry, and joined NCT as a shareholding member in 1999. He also grows vegetables and sells his surplus at local shops and markets.

Nj and Cliff
NJ inspects a compartment on his farm with Cliff Walton of NCT.
Nj and Cliff inspect anthill
NJ utilises natural regeneration to re-establish compartments after clear felling. He leaves a substantial amount of brush after harvesting and then does a hot burn to facilitate the germination of seedlings. He then identifies his lines and hoes in between. He transplants seedlings to areas where regeneration was less successful by digging out a square foot of earth with seedlings and re-planting. Here he discusses his regeneration results with Cliff Walton of NCT. One of several anthills in NJ's plantation. The white ants are causing him quite a few headaches, eating away the roots of his saplings, leaving only the taproot and effectively killing the trees. According to NCT's Cliff Walton, the ants do not seem to be taking a significant toll on the plantation and are effectively thinning the compartments. However, the wise baba felt differently about the situation, as he rooted around finding three damaged trees in the space of about 10 m2. "For me, every tree is valuable," explains NJ, "whether I sell it on the commercial market, or use it for fire wood, fence poles or building material."
Nj inspect fence NCT depot ahrens
NJ and Cliff inspect the boundary firebreaks and fence. He hoes firebreaks on his perimeter and between compartments to make sure he sleeps soundly at night. His plantations are easily identified in the area for his well maintained fences, clean, weeded compartments, good spacing and neat rows. NJ delivers his timber to the NCT depot at Ahrens, and his bark to the NTE bark factory at Hermannsberg. He says transport is always a challenge for the small growers who are responsible for arranging their own short haul from plantation to depot. NJ sometimes buys timber from his neighbours in order to maximise his profit on a delivery of timber.
nj melon new
NJ the vegetable farmer ... he is in the process of establishing a farming co-op by the name of Zenzele One and is opening a fruit and vegetable store. He is something of a community leader and an entrepreneur in everything he does. He grows potatoes, traditional melons, maize, beans and bananas, farms cattle and chickens and even has two beehives. All this without running water. He harvests rainwater and collects water from the nearby municipal pump.


Published in August 2012

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