Michelle Marais- Third runner up -I am South African

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   Hollard Insure and Farmingportal.co.za and Agri News Net - Young Agri Writers competition-

I am South African. I grew up watching SABC, my family's favourite takeout is bunnychow, and my favourite side at a braai is always pap and sheba. I know that a millipede's real name is "shongololo" and that any unidentifiable insect is just a "gogga". My grandpa always has a copy of the Landbouweekblad on the kitchen table and we drove past hundreds of farms every time we went on holiday. My dad never failed to mention how beautiful the maize fields are in the Free State. I grew up in a country with an agricultural industry that is worth being proud of. Despite my family not owning a single hectare of land, having grown up mostly in urban areas and being a girl- I decided that agriculture was the sector for me.

I spent six years studying agriculture in the Free State where I learned a lot about agriculture. I could write books about all the theoretical knowledge I gained. However, the most important lesson I learned about South African agriculture, I learned in Spain.

I have recently come to Spain for a year-long AgriMBA where I am meeting people from agricultural backgrounds from all around the world. Every time I mention that I am South African, people automatically have a new level of respect. It really is astonishing, and you have to live it to believe it.

I wake up in the morning to read articles on News24 about our current political situation, I see Facebook posts about Eskom all the time, I see videos of strikes and riots, and think "I am South African.." a thought that passes my mind at least a dozen times a day.

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I enter conversations with multinational businessmen and women, industry leaders in the world of agriculture. I always thought that the South African image to the rest of the world is nothing but marred and damaged- given the news I see on a daily basis- but what I have learned is that it is quite the opposite. Many of these people have had the opportunity to work with South Africans, and have a great respect for our nation.

Why?

Because even when the roads are blocked and we are confronted with literal fire, we still try our best to make it to work on time. When the media is raging with stories about conflict, farmers are handing out thousands of food parcels to those in need. When our farms are burning down, everyone unites to work together and to stand up again. When we are faced with challenges, we don't depend on entitlement- we drop our heads and get to work. We are a nation highly capable of rapidly adapting to change. The Afrikaans farmers will say "'n Boer maak 'n plan", and it is true. No obstacle is ever too big. We find a way over, around or straight through it. South Africans are world-renowned farmers.

Somehow in the blurred news headlines and difficulties our nation is facing, we have developed skills and culture that is unmatched. We can work in diverse teams, enjoy cuisine from around the world, most of us speak at least two languages (if not more), we know what hard work is, we know what it means to be failed by politics, to run short of critical resources and to face unstable conditions across the board. Yet, the agricultural industry works day and night to keep our nation nourished. We produce some of the best products on the planet under circumstances that are far from ideal.

We have many obstacles ahead of us, but we are South African. We may mix our eleven official languages more often than not, we may have hard to handle headlines in the news and we may have to do a lot of work by candle light... But we are South African. We adapt. We work. We make a plan.

I have learned a lot about agriculture from textbooks, but the part I am most grateful for are the work ethic, drive, passion and tenacity that the South African agricultural industry has somehow rubbed off on me. It is for this reason, that we will never lose hope in the agricultural sector of South Africa- the backbone of our existence.

 Michelle Marais

Michelle is a Master's candidate in Agricultural Economics at the University of the Free State. She started her Masters in International Agribusiness Management in Spain. Michelle is passionate about education and loves to teach anything agriculture related. She is also excited by marketing strategies that support sustainability and that improve the profitability of farmers. She is due to complete her studies in August 2022 and is hoping to become part of a company where she can follow these passions.