Cash out of cows

From hum­ble be­gin­nings, black em­pow­er­ment dairy co­op­er­a­tive Amadlelo Agri has ex­panded and is milk­ing its suc­cess for all it’s worth

CityPress - - News - LUBA­BALO NGCUKANA luba­balo.ngcukana@city­press.co.za

If you’re a fan of De­bonairs pizza or Steers burg­ers, chances are you’ve eaten cheese pro­duced us­ing milk from the cows at Seven Stars dairy. Sho­prite.Seven Stars is part of the Amadlelo Agri co­op­er­a­tive of black dairy farm­ers whose milk, but­ter and cheese are avail­able for sale in large gro­cery chains, in­clud­ing But in 2003, they were in a dire sit­u­a­tion, strug­gling to make a profit and pay off their Land Bank loan.

After a part­ner­ship with a group of com­mer­cial farm­ers and the In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion (IDC), Amadlelo was saved and Seven Stars now em­ploys 55 peo­ple in Keiskamma­hoek, a town 95km from East Lon­don.

Lumka Maso, share­holder and chair­per­son of the Seven Stars Dairy Trust, says they now sup­ply milk to Coega dairy, a dairy-pro­cess­ing plant in Port El­iz­a­beth, which was also formed as a re­sult of the part­ner­ship.

Maso says Seven Stars be­gan with 35 farm­ers in and around Keiskamma­hoek, with 300 Fries­land cat­tle and a R1.7 mil­lion loan from the Land Bank.

“But we were bat­tling and the busi­ness was not mov­ing for­ward due to a skills deficit and a lack of gen­eral in­fra­struc­ture. Things started to change when we part­nered with the IDC and Amadlelo in 2010,” she says.

Amadlelo brought in 1 800 cows. “We are now a thriv­ing busi­ness free of loans and mak­ing a profit,” she says.

Most of the dairy’s 55 em­ploy­ees are women. It is un­doubt­edly the big­gest busi­ness op­er­a­tion in tiny Keiskamma­hoek.

From 300 cows, Seven Stars now milks 2 000 cows twice a day. They have ex­panded to two dairies, which can milk a re­spec­tive 50 and 60 cows at a time us­ing a hi-tech ro­tary­par­lour milk­ing ma­chine.

The dairies are man­aged by two young uni­ver­sity grad­u­ates, Abubele Mtam­beka, who grad­u­ated from Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity, and Mandla Sikhondo, from the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

Seven Stars’ man­ager, Leonard Mavhungu, says the es­tab­lish­ment of Coega Dairy – which has unique, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly tech­nol­ogy and an ul­tra-high­tem­per­a­ture pro­cess­ing plant – gave them a life­line be­cause it be­came their reg­u­lar cus­tomer.

Though the bulk of their milk goes to Coega Dairy, Seven Stars also sells to Keiskamma­hoek lo­cals. Now they plan to grow their dairy and use the fal­low 260 hectares of their 750ha prop­erty to bring in 1 000 more cows.

Mavhungu says they have come a long way from the days when they would sell milk for less than 50c a litre. Now they sell it for R1.30.

Maso says that, com­pared to when they started, the project has be­come a big suc­cess.

They have also man­aged to buy out one of the farm­ers in the co­op­er­a­tive, pay­ing him R1.2 mil­lion for a farm that’s now been in­cor­po­rated into Seven Stars.

“We want to buy more farms be­cause we have re­alised, since hav­ing part­ners such as Amadlelo, IDC and Coega, we have achieved a lot,” she says.

One of Seven Stars’ em­ploy­ees, Non­tombi Nci­nane (55), had been un­em­ployed for three years when she landed a job at the dairy, milk­ing cows. She used to work at a Chi­ne­se­owned shoe fac­tory in nearby Dim­baza, which shut down in 2004.

“When I came to work here, I knew noth­ing about milk­ing cows, but to­day I think I am an ex­pert in not only that, but I also know a lot about what is be­ing done here through train­ing and skills de­vel­op­ment. I love my job,” she says.“We used to live in a shack. I have since built a de­cent house for my fam­ily.

“My hus­band – who works as a se­cu­rity guard at pub­lic works – and I are able to pro­vide for our kids and meet their needs, such as buy­ing them uni­forms, clothes and send­ing them to school. “I am grate­ful for the job I have here.” Dairy man­ager Mtam­beka (30) stud­ied agri­cul­tural man­age­ment and joined the dairy for his in­tern­ship in 2009. He was em­ployed as the man­ager the fol­low­ing year. This is the sin­gle fa­ther’s first per­ma­nent job. “It’s some­thing I wanted to do since I was young. You get to learn skills you need as a farmer. It is quite an ex­pe­ri­ence. The thing I love most about my job is def­i­nitely milk­ing cows,” he says.

This se­ries is re­ported by City Press and spon­sored by the IDC

PHO­TOS: LEON SADIKI

IN CHARGE

Share­holder and chair­per­son of the Seven Stars Dairy Trust Lumka Maso

JOB CRE­ATION Seven Stars has 55 em­ploy­ees, most of whom are women

RU­RAL MEETS HI-TECH Keiskamma­hoek has so­phis­ti­cated milk­ing ma­chines

... AND COUNT­ING Hav­ing started with 300 cows, there are now 2 000 at Seven Stars

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