An ini­tia­tive to help emerg­ing grow­ers is rais­ing liv­ing stan­dards and re­duc­ing depen­dence on so­cial grants

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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

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