Small grower reaps reward with natural savvy

DURBAN – A KwaZulu-Natal farmer’s love for nature has borne fruit as he bagged the KZN Guinea Fowl Award. 

Marlen Manivasagen Pillay, 40, who was nominated by Tongaat Hulett’s Darnall Mill in the small-scale grower category, has 20 years of experience as a third-generation farmer.

The award, which was presented by the Darnall Environment Committee recognises, among others, growers who excel in sustainability, soil, conservation, infrastructure and consistency in the agricultural sector.

He owns and manages Wellvale Farm near Dendethu, KwaDukuza, north of Durban, where he also lives. Sugar cane is produced on a small scale, vegetables on a commercial scale and broiler production is in the pipeline.

Born into a family of farmers, he drew inspiration from his parents, siblings and staff members who taught him how to handle and rear livestock after school and during school holidays.

“In 1940, my paternal grandfather Muthu Konar purchased an eight-hectare plot in Durban after having served his period of indenture at the Mt Edgecombe and Tinley Manor sugar mills which belonged to Tongaat Hulett.

“Thereafter, he built a wood and iron dwelling for his family of 10 who later farmed to sustain themselves. The dwelling is now a modern house,” said Pillay.

108761285 - Small grower reaps reward with natural savvy
Vegetables growing on Marlen Pillay’s Wellvale Farm near Dendethu, KwaDukuza, north of Durban. Marlen Pillay

At a young age, Pillay would accompany his mother every Saturday morning to the fresh produce market where he gained valuable knowledge and experience about trading.

“My mother would take care of the sale of vegetables produced on the farm while my father handled the transport of sugar cane to the mill.”

Pillay has a diploma in horticulture and landscape technology from Technikon Natal, now known as the Durban University of Technology. Pillay was selected by Tongaat Hulett to complete a year of studies in sugar cane production and field management.

His success has led him to purchase his neighbour’s land and build a new home for himself and his family

Pillay said he had a passion for farming.

“We have 17 full-time employees, with 26 casual staff members employed over the festive season.”

The farm produces about 1500 tons of sugar cane per year.

“I see potential in any situation with which I am presented. Offer me a piece of land or veld and watch me raise a crop and harvest food, which is the greatest gratification and reward of farming,” said Pillay.

He added that some of the biggest challenges facing farmers was the unpredictability of weather patterns caused by global climate change.

Fortunate enough to attend a research programme three years ago in India, Pillay now plans to implement his own irrigation system on some of his sugar cane fields.

“Farming is not for the faint-hearted and neither is it a get-rich scheme. One has to have a passion to farm, work hard and be dedicated,” added Pillay.

Pillay is in the process of becoming a certified marriage officer.


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