Ap­ple project bears fruit

Free State project re­ceives pro­duc­tiv­ity award

Finweek English Edition - - Business strategy - SIKONATHI MANTSHANTSHA

LESS THAN A DECADE af­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion, a black em­pow­er­ment ini­tia­tive worth R30m in the ap­ple in­dus­try has borne fruit by si­mul­ta­ne­ously cre­at­ing 94 new em­pow­ered farm­ers and long- term sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment in the east­ern Free State.

Co-funded by the In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion’s ( IDC) Food, Bev­er­age and Agro In­dus­tries strate­gic busi­ness unit, the De­vel­op­ment Bank of South­ern Africa and the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture & Land Af­fairs, the Beth­le­hem Farm­ers’ Trust (BFT) has suc­cess­fully es­tab­lished the emerg­ing farm­ers and di­rectly cre­ated more than 250 jobs.

Agri­cul­tural ser­vices group Af­gri is pro­vid­ing men­tor­ship in man­ag­ing the trust, in­clud­ing the tech­ni­cal in­puts and farm­ers’ em­pow­er­ment. In terms of the trust, the black farm­ers (30% be­ing women) each grow ap­ples on one or two hectares, with 1 500 ap­ple trees/ha planted. The project is wholly ir­ri­gated and the trees grown un­der nets to pro­tect them against hail, snow and sun­light.

The farm­ers made a study tour to the Cape’s fruit pro­duc­ing re­gions and at­tended in­ten­sive cour­ses on busi­ness prin­ci­ples, mar­ket­ing man­age­ment and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment through the Na­tional Pro­duc­tiv­ity In­sti­tute (NPI) and Skills for All.

Sev­eral farm­ers are also study­ing through the agri­cul­ture Seta’s learn­er­ship course.

Be­tween 2003 and 2005 the farm­ers har­vested just un­der 10 000t of ap­ples in to­tal, ex­port­ing 30% to Bri­tain, Europe and the Far East. The 2005/2006 har­vest is ex­pected to pro­duce 5 000t of ap­ples, pro­vid­ing the farm­ers with a turnover of R16m. The trust graded, packed and mar­keted the ap­ples.

BFT trustee An­ton Barker says ap­ples grown in the east­ern Free State gen­er­ally ripen two weeks ear­lier than their coun­ter­parts else­where in the coun­try, giv­ing farm­ers cer­tain mar­ket­ing ad­van­tages. Clients in SA in­clude top-end na­tional re­tail chains Wool­worth’s and Pick and Pay.

The project has also re­ceived the NPI Na­tional Gold Award for Pro­duc­tiv­ity, while the women farm­ers won the Free State Ex­porters’ Award in 2005. Barker says that ini­tially 94 en­trepreneurs were un­em­ployed, re­signed to beg­ging for food and suf­fer­ing the cold Beth­le­hem win­ters with­out elec­tric­ity or coal. Their suc­cess is cur­rently re­flected in their train­ing and newly de­vel­oped farm­ing skills.

Says Barker: “They started on a piece of veldt where there was noth­ing. To­day it’s a huge ap­ple farm, cul­ti­vat­ing the latest ap­ple va­ri­eties – namely, Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Brae­burn, Early Red One and Ore­gon Spur.” He cred­ited the strict dis­ci­pline em­ployed by the project co-or­di­na­tor, man­age­ment team and the farm­ers for the trust’s suc­cess.

“Ap­ple farm­ing is highly tech­ni­cal. The trees must be ma­nip­u­lated for early and high pro­duc­tion lev­els and ir­ri­gated and sprayed reg­u­larly ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish chain store spec­i­fi­ca­tions.”

The trust sup­plies Marks & Spencer and Sains­bury’s.

The project re­ceived the Na­tional Peace Gar­den Award in 2000 for the best de­vel­op­ment project for up­com­ing com­mer­cial farm­ers, the Cer­tifi­cate of Ex­cel­lence Free State Pre­mier’s Awards for Emerg­ing Ex­porter of the Year in 2002 and run­ner-up for the Fe­male Farmer of the Year Award two years later.

Sev­eral farm­ers have es­tab­lished sec­ondary busi­nesses to utilise re­lated ser­vices and value-adding op­por­tu­ni­ties, and Barker says the chal­lenge now in­volves wholly em­pow­er­ing the BFT and re­pay­ing loans.

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