South Africa, 01 July 2021 – Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on many sectors, young black farmers have shown their mettle by not only surviving, but producing a bumper crop, with signs of strong growth.
Two of these farmers, Sinelizwi Fakade, from the Eastern Cape, and Vusi Gumede, from KwaZulu-Natal, reflect on the challenges of their unique operations and the future of farming in South Africa.
“While we were able to continue farming, the pandemic affected around 20% of our production as we had to cut labour numbers and change shifts to maintain safe social distancing. Also, buying inputs like fertilisers and herbicides was a problem because these suppliers were closed during the height of the lockdown,” says 29-year-old Vusi Gumede, who owns Bongi Mpumelelo Trading.
Bongi Mpumelelo is primarily a sugarcane farming operation in Doornkop, Northern KwaZulu-Natal, with 90 hectares (ha) of sugar cane on a 120ha piece of land.
“We are currently in the harvesting season, which runs from March to December,” Gumede says. “It’s a strong channel for us, as we adhere to consistent supplier agreements with the country’s leading sugar companies.
“However, we wanted to diversify our operations and we started to rear sheep two years ago, and goats in April 2021. This allows us to sell livestock to rural people, after we realised that they travelled at least 40 kilometres to the next town to buy sheep or goats. We are now closer to them and they have cut down on travel time and costs,” he says.
Bongi Mpumelelo has been a beneficiary of Mintirho since 2019, receiving an investment of R2,5 million and now employing 12 permanent workers and 15 seasonal cane cutters during the harvesting period.
Since the start of the 2021 harvest, the operation has enjoyed a yield of 55 tonnes per hectare of cane, which would have been higher were it not for the drought. Most cane farmers do not irrigate and rely on the plentiful rainfall of the region.
In May 2017, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) formed the Mintirho Foundation to promote the development of historically disadvantaged farmers, as well as small suppliers of inputs in the CCBSA value chain.
The R400 million trust was established as a vehicle to develop and grow qualifying beneficiaries to become full, sustainable participants in the commercial agriculture value chain.
The Foundation uses a range of financial instruments, offering expansion capital that enables higher production of existing capacity and commercialisation. This enables beneficiaries to supply CCBSA and Appletiser, as well as other end users, through strategic arrangements.
“We survived the pandemic reasonably well, as we maintained 100% of our operations, being an essential service. We took the opportunity to enhance vital aspects of our operations to achieve better long-term sustainability,” says 30-year-old Sinelizwi Fakade, owner of Rocky Park, a 1100 hectare farm located in Ugie Eastern Cape.
Starting in 2020, Rocky Park initially planted 750 hectares (ha) of grain, of which 550 ha is maize, 100 ha of soya and 100 ha of millet for the commercial market.
In the first harvest in June 2020, he targeted a per hectare yield of 9 tonnes of maize, 2 tonnes of soya and 6 tonnes of millet. The farm, which has been a Mintirho beneficiary since 2019, employs 10 permanent workers and 11 casual labourers, as well as an additional 60 pickers during harvest time.
In the 2020 harvest, the farm yielded 3.6 tonnes per ha of soya, which is ahead of the national average of 1.8. So far, 700ha of maize and 500 ha of soya have been harvested.
“This year, we sold some of our heavier equipment and bought new, lighter equipment that would achieve minimal disturbance of the soil,” Fakade says. “We are also introducing livestock, with 250 head of cattle over four months to sell to meat markets, as well as introducing some marginal crops to help improve soil nutrition. This is not necessarily to make a lot of money, but to ensure higher yields in the long term.”
By the end of 2020, the Mintirho Foundation had committed more than R300 million to 26 projects around the country, focusing mainly on sugarcane farming, fruits and vegetables, as well as fertiliser and logistics.
Over 100 new jobs in the rural economy were created, with 43% of these employees being black women, who are often the backbone of these communities.
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