IT’S BOOM TIME FOR TOBACCO FARMERS
An initiative to help emerging growers is raising living standards and reducing dependence on social grants
It’s growth time for Shadrack Sibiya, a mealie, bean and tobacco farmer from Matsamo in Mpumalanga, near the border with Swaziland.
Sibiya has been farming since he was a teen, but it was not until 2010, when he added the tobacco leaf to his crops, that he experienced a spike in production and a sizeable increase in profits.
A production haul of 3 800kg harvested in 2015 increased almost threefold to 10 950kg this year.
The 51-year-old father of two, along with other small-scale tobacco farmers in Matsamo, is sharing this success with his community. His farm and neighbouring ones are employing 60 people to work on the tobacco leaf alone. A further 100 people are employed to work on the farmers’ other crops, including green maize, dry beans and vegetables.
“My farm has made a huge impact on the lives of the people of Matsamo,” a proud Sibiya said.
“Now, almost everyone is involved in the projects. As a result, they have improved their standard of living and this has reduced reliance on government grants.”
In 2010, Sibiya was roped into the emerging farmers initiative spearheaded by multinational tobacco company British American Tobacco (BAT), and run by Mobile Agri Skills Development and Training. This nonprofit company is a one-stop centre for small and medium-sized enterprises in the agricultural sector, and it provides comprehensive support to emerging farmers in rural areas. Other partners in the initiative include AgriSA, Limpopo Tobacco Processors and Lowveld Agri Research & Support Service.
With their help, 74 farming projects were created in Buffelspruit, Badplaas and Steynsdorp in Mpumalanga. In Limpopo, the tobacco farming projects are centred in the Vhembe area, covering Nzhelele and Mianzwi in the former Venda homeland, as well as in Groblersdal. The farmers were placed under an incubation programme, which was overseen by mentors and submentors.
This ensures the farmers get help with plant cultivation, tobacco production, and poultry and livestock care. Non-tobacco crops, including mealies, butternut, cabbage, peppers, beetroot, onions and spinach, were added on a rotational cropping plan to help the farmers augment their income.
About R50 million has been invested in the project, which, since 2011, has facilitated the planting of more than 500 hectares of tobacco and 300 hectares of vegetable crops. BAT buys all the tobacco leaf the participating farmers produce. The projects have created 900 jobs for members of the community, who support in excess of 3 900 dependants.
A study into the effect of the project paints a picture of how the initiative has changed the lives of participating farmers, their families and the wider community. Funded by agricultural company Monsanto and the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, the research was undertaken by a team of North-West University academics, including professors Hendri Coetzee and Werner Nell.
The study noted that participating farmers used the proceeds of their crop sales to buy new homes or upgrade their existing ones, purchase new vehicles and install additional irrigation systems to improve their water supply.
Meanwhile, farmers in the Badplaas area who were being plagued by crop theft hired private security to guard their crops, control access to their farms and protect their agricultural assets. They were also able to hire additional staff to help run the farms.
The study found that crop yields increased significantly thanks to the skills the farmers acquired during the incubation process.
“Farmers manage larger tracts of farmland, apply proper irrigation practices, and control pests and disease,” the researchers found.
The farmers were also able to start saving money to take better care of their families and send their children to school.
Female farmers who participated in the projects spoke about how the income earned from agribusinesses eliminated their reliance on social grants and on their husbands for support.
The average farmer employs between two and four people from the community permanently, and between six and 10 people on a seasonal basis – typically six months.
“With their income, these employees were able to access many of the same benefits as those enjoyed by the farmer (albeit to a lesser degree), such as paying for children’s school fees, buying more or better quality food, gaining access to improved healthcare and effecting improvements or necessary renovations to their homes.”
BAT has announced plans to expand the emerging farmers initiative by doubling participation to 155 farmers and setting the project up in other provinces. To widen its socioeconomic benefits, the farmers will get help in finding markets where they can sell their non-tobacco crops.
Soraya Benchikh, the chief executive of BAT SA, said the partnerships in the initiative had seen emerging farmers empowered to become commercial producers. They were contributing to food security, job creation and community upliftment, while at the same time diversifying and reinforcing tobacco supply.
“This initiative makes economic sense, which is a precondition for its sustainability,” Benchikh said.
FLOURISHING Since he added tobacco crops on his farm seven years ago, Shadrack Sibiya has seen a noticeable increase in profits