Mentorship makes these farms work
THERE ARE SEVERAL examples of fruitful empowerment in SA, though there’s no shortage of failures.
In the sugar and fruit industries, novice farmers have been empowered for more than a decade. Success in these areas is becoming increasingly commonplace, and it’s the mentorship and financial involvement of established farmers that’s making the difference.
Inadequate management skills and insufficient capital are the main reasons why previously successful farms have subsequently failed. This handicaps Government’s aim of having a new generation of farmers established over the next decade, and creates uncertainty about SA’s long-term food production.
“As an industry, we cannot become involved in specific land reform agreements or transactions,” says Anton Rabe, CEO of the Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust (DFPT). “But we can facilitate processes, encourage change, do research and provide information, as well as speed up agreement between parties.”
As far back as the Eighties, leaders in the fruit industry were far-sighted enough to create opportunities for farm workers and others to share in the prosperity of the industry, Rabe says. “So we have already achieved a great deal to ensure essential transformation without losing competitiveness in the world market.”
The DFPT gave Finweek a list of more than 30 success stories (some outlined below) where mentorship and other involvement by established farmers have played a role. • On the farm Oudrif in the southern Cape’s Langkloof Valley, which has modern packaging and cooling facilities, and neighbouring farm Appelkloof, bought by Oudrif’s owners last year, the workers’ trust shares in the prosperity.
The trust has a 75% stake in private company Oudrif Cooling, with the rest held by previous owner Marius Vosloo and his wife. Many of the trust’s workers had been working for him for at least 20 years and he wished to empower them.
The more than 200ha of orchards on the two farms and the plans to cultivate a further 100ha in the next few years make this an enormous operation, which could be doomed to failure without the necessary managerial skills.
Vosloo is still helping them in this
regard, though he is identifying and developing management know-how among his workers, now his partners, on an ongoing basis.
Pieter October, chairman of the Oudrif workers’ trust, describes their partnership as follows: “We are just ordinary workers who do not have much of a long-term vision. Now we have responsibility, pride and positive future expectations.” Karsten Farms, on the banks of the Orange River near Kanoneiland, established the Yarona Investment Company as long as 13 years ago to empower its workers. Today 26 of the original 33 shareholders are still involved in one of SA’s largest exporters of apples, pears, citrus fruit, berries and dates.
When Piet Karsten made his empowerment decision in 1994, he decided to involve the Department of Land Affairs through his LRAD programme, which made R15 000 per family available for buying shares. One of the conditions was that the shares had to be kept in a trust for five years and could not be on-sold.
Esta Titus, one of the shareholders and also a member of Karsten’s administrative staff, says: “I kept my shares, because it was a good investment. We are kept informed about the company’s growth every year and see how the investment grows.” Southern Farms, also in the Orange River region, produces 1,1m cartons of grapes a year and has about 220 full-time workers as well as a further 1 000 part-time workers who help at harvesting time. This farm empowers workers through, among others, literacy programmes from AgriSETA, and skills and management training for workers so that they can work in middle and top-management positions. The Bethlehem Farmers’ Trust in Bethlehem in the eastern Free State – where, among others, the Industrial Development Corporation, the Development Bank and Afgri are involved, as reported previously by Finweek – has often been singled out as one of the most successful empowerment projects in SA. This farm, which is renowned for its quality apples, has a major supply contract with one of SA’s well-known retail groups and, with the necessary mentorship, is now being run by about 100 black farmers. Some of the farmers have already developed to such an extent that they’ve identified and developed other business opportunities. The Du Toit group of Ceres, one of the largest fruit and vegetable producers in SA (its orchards cover a massive 2 400ha), empowered its workers about nine years ago by forming two companies, Crispy Coolers and Crispy Farming, which offer shareholdings to its workforce of about 1 400.
This group also made use of the LRAD programme of the Department of Land Affairs to help its workers financially to obtain the necessary shares. Jan le Fleur, one of the shareholders, who has in the meantime progressed to the position of production manager on one of the farms, says this was so rewarding financially that he can now afford to send his children to better schools and even to travel outside the Langkloof area.
Malcolm MacKenzie, project manager of the Du Toit group, says it was involved in mentor programmes and other relevant training, which led to the two empowerment companies growing to a combined capitalisation of about R60m.
Gys du Toit, chairman of Crispy Coolers and Crispy Farming, says the group realised its empowerment plans and improved the financial position of its workers, making successful management transformation possible and contributing to the redistribution of land. The Moravia development project, on the banks of the Berg River near Piketberg in the Western Cape, is, according to the DFPT, one of the best examples of how well some fruit producers are empowering their workers.
The project was initiated by Johann Conradie of Conradie Farms near Porterville – which produces tons of citrus fruit and wine and table grapes every year – to enable his loyal and permanent workers in his six production units – to share in the prosperity of his business.
Shares were bought with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture, and Conradie Farms contributed 80ha of land with water rights from the Berg River and wine-producing rights for 500t to the Uit die Bloute and Disa group projects, in which 330 workers have interests.
The project is so highly thought of in the Western Cape that Cobus Dowry, the Western Cape MEC for agriculture, visited Moravia in 2004 to hand over his department’s first cheque for R2,9m to those involved. The province has already made a total of R7,8m available to the shareholders.
According to the DFPT, Moravia development wines has created several new jobs in the Piketberg area and boosted economic growth in the region.
Quality counts. Marie-Louise du Plessis and Regina Horing of Mooigezicht in the Western Cape
juicy table grapes (top) and Oudrif’s quality apples