Apple project bears fruit
Free State project receives productivity award
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.