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Jobs fund assists farmers to find markets for their produce

khesani mboweni
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A programme supported by the Jobs Fund’s is benefitting small-scale farmers by helping them find markets in Sekororo by, a rural community in Limpopo province, that produces food that is sold all over South Africa.

The Sekororo farmers, who are participating in the Lima Smallholder Farmer Support Programme, have seen their farming enterprises being transformed thanks to the comprehensive assistance they are getting from the programme, which has helped them access markets and generate employment in an area where jobs are scarce.

The National Treasury’s Jobs Fund has partnered with the Lima Rural Development Foundation to support smallholder farmers in 22 sites across Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Free State. Sekororo, situated 69 kilometres from Limpopo’s farming town of Tzaneen, is one of the 22 sites benefiting from the Lima programme.

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“The Jobs Fund’s objective is to catalyse innovative thinking about how the country can create more jobs and support a more inclusive economy. We have invested grant funding of R60 million to the Lima programme and we are confident that it will enhance job creation and provide tangible benefits to farmers across all 22 sites including Sekororo”, said Najwah Allie-Edries, Deputy Director General for Employment Facilitation.

The Lima Smallholder Farmer Support Programme is designed to deliver integrated support services to beneficiary farmers in the form of loans, agricultural inputs (fertilisers, feeds, and seedlings), mechanisation, and technical advice. It also assists farmers to access markets for their produce through off-take contracts negotiated with food retailers and wholesalers. The programme aims to create 4, 700 jobs and equip 12, 800 farmers nationally with training in business management, annual crop production, and livestock production.  It has so far created just over 3,800 of these jobs.

One of the Sekororo farmers who is benefitting from the programme is a poultry farmer and retired school principal, Khensani Mboweni, who joined the programme in August 2017. She employs seven people, of whom three are permanent, and supplies chickens to a reliable market that includes local residents and tshisa nyamas. The demand is so high she often needs to convince her customers to not take the chickens before they reach maturity.

“I started poultry farming as a backyard project in 2009, producing between 200 and 250 chickens. As time went on, the community needed more chickens, so I built two extra houses for broilers and egg layers. I am currently producing about 3100 chickens. 

“When I retired in 2017 after 40 years as a teacher, I joined the Lima programme. I have received two production loans from Lima, which I have paid off. I am now busy repaying my third loan of R64,000,” explains Mboweni, whose husband is an agricultural technician and cattle farmer.

Khesani Mboweni at his farm

Business is picking up for this former educator, who has since managed to buy a pick-up with the proceeds from the farm. Mboweni’s successful and expanding poultry venture has not gone unnoticed by Sekororo’s tribal authority. It has given her permission to occupy (PTO) a bigger piece of land to enable her to grow her business further. About 10 hectares of land has been allocated for Mboweni, less than a kilometre where her current farm is located in a residential area.

“I am currently clearing the bush and fencing the 10 hectares of land I have been allocated. However, I will need financial assistance to build new houses for my chickens. With this new farm, I will triple my capacity. Lima has been helpful and I hope it will assist me with my new phase of growth,” she said.

A few kilometres from Mboweni’s farm is another female farmer, Lucy Hutamo, who is also a retired teacher. Hutamo practices irrigated crop farming on seven hectares of land and was first assisted by Lima in April 2017 to access fertilisers and chemicals to spray her crops.

She employs five permanent workers and supplies baby marrows, green pepper, brinjals, watermelons, and tomatoes to food markets in Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Durban. “I went to Lima to ask for assistance because I was not successful at farming due to lack of expertise and funding. They gave me technical advice and extended two loans that helped me buy chemicals and seeds.  Since then, we have developed a relationship with Lima that has led to a huge improvement in our business. We used to produce 100 crates of vegetables, but now we produce between 300 and 400 crates,” said Hutamo.

She employs five people on her farm and sells her produce via agents to fresh produce markets and to the agri-hub set up by Lima in Sekororo.  The agri-hub was implemented to assist farmers that seek to access Lima’s integrated support services.

“In the Sekororo site, we have created about 200 jobs through the production of cabbages and butternuts. The Sekororo agri-hub is crucial to supplying farmers with feeds, fertilisers, seeds, and medication, which we supply in partnership with input suppliers. We have about 800 farmers that are serviced by this agri-hub,” explains Lynette Parsons, Lima’s national programme manager.

The agri-hub does not only provide loans and technical advice, but it also links farmers to formal markets.  Lima’s role is to negotiate prices, quality, and quantity on behalf of farmers with off-takers.

So far the Sekororo agri-hub has off-take agreements with retailers such as Spar, Boxer Stores, and Fruit and Veg.  About 80% of fresh produce in South Africa is sold through informal markets, with street traders and hawkers being the main distributors.

Lima is in the process of identifying 10 Sekororo beneficiary farmers, who will be trained to take over ownership of the agri-hub. The plan is to have Lima officials gradually hand over responsibilities of managing the agri-hub to the 10 farmers. This will require that they transfer skills to the farmers.

“The commercial partners (off-takers and input suppliers) are key to the future of the agri-hub. For instance, input suppliers do not only provide technical support to farmers, they also provide bulk discounts since the agri-hub buys in bulk for the farmers. These financial benefits are crucial for a place that used to battle with input supply as it is in a remote part of the country,” explains Parsons.

Lima is adding a pack house to the Sekororo project, where fresh produce from all farmers participating in the project will be aggregated, packaged, and delivered to customers.Crop farmer and former lecturer, Linda Ngatsane, has offered to share a pack house on her 21-hectare farm with other emerging farmers in the area.

“We have a pack house that we use to package our products such as green beans, cucumber, and sweet potatoes. Our aim is to brand and sell our products in shops and export markets,” says Ngatsane, who sells her produce to Johannesburg’s fresh produce market in City Deep and informal traders.

The partnership between the Jobs Fund and Lima has laid a solid foundation for the future sustainability of the Sekororo smallholder farmers and more farmers in the area could end up joining the project to grow their farm ventures.

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