Cape Times - - NEWS -

Build­ing re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple on a so­cial level is the vi­tal in­gre­di­ent in estab­lish­ing suc­cess­ful com­mu­nal farm­ing busi­nesses in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to WIPHOLD head of cor­po­rate af­fairs Debra Mars­den.

Since 2014, the in­vest­ment com­pany has through its Cen­tane and Mbashe Agri­cul­tural Ini­tia­tive fo­cused on the de­vel­op­ment of a model for the prof­itable and sus­tain­able farm­ing of com­mu­nally owned land in the East­ern Cape, in part­ner­ship with com­mu­nal land own­ers.

She says, “While chal­lenges abound in terms of set­ting up a farm­ing op­er­a­tion on land that has mostly lain fal­low for decades, these can be over­come through good farm­ing prac­tices. ‘The big­ger chal­lenge lies at a so­cial level where mu­tual re­spect must be built. The win­ning recipe is aware­ness that the com­mu­nity must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the project. They must con­trib­ute sweat equity in or­der to make a com­mer­cial life out of farm­ing.”

Within four years, the Wiphold/com­mu­nity part­ner­ship is see­ing signs of suc­cess. To­day it pro­duces dry­land maize and soy­beans on over 2 000ha of com­mu­nal land, to­gether with more than 2 000 landown­ers from 32 vil­lages.

Maize yields are al­ready up to about 8tons/ha on some of the lands and the com­mu­nal farm­ers in­creas­ingly speak the lan­guage of com­mer­cial own­er­ship and re­spon­si­bil­ity. To date more than R18 mil­lion has been dis­trib­uted to par­tic­i­pat­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers. Many years ago, Khanya Women’s Club, a sav­ings club in the East­ern Cape, was look­ing for an in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle fo­cussed on em­pow­er­ing women with op­por­tu­ni­ties that would en­able them to par­tic­i­pate in the main­stream econ­omy.

“So,” says spokesper­son Martina Langa, “when WIPHOLD called for women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions to buy shares in their or­gan­i­sa­tion, we seized the op­por­tu­nity. Since then the club has ad­vanced through a num­ber of WIPHOLD em­pow­er­ment ve­hi­cles which enabled us to iden­tify lu­cra­tive in­vest­ments and bet­ter par­tic­i­pate in the econ­omy.”

Club mem­bers are part of the WIPHOLD In­vest­ment Trust that has more than 1,200 di­rect and 18,000 in­di­rect women ben­e­fi­cia­ries. In turn, the trust is a 14.9 per­cent share­holder in WIPHOLD, with dis­tri­bu­tions to ben­e­fi­cia­ries flow­ing from div­i­dends as a re­sult of this stake.

More than R800-mil­lion has been dis­trib­uted to WIPHOLD share­hold­ers and ben­e­fi­cia­ries in 24 years of op­er­a­tion. The unique model that es­tab­lished black women as di­rect and in­di­rect share­hold­ers of the group through the cre­ation of the WIPHOLD In­vest­ment Trust and WIPHOLD NGO Trust (which jointly hold 33.5 per­cent of the group) has been in­stru­men­tal in de­liv­er­ing on the

And these num­bers don’t take into ac­count any new eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and job cre­ation re­sult­ing from spin-off ven­tures and par­al­lel busi­nesses be­ing started by com­mu­nity mem­bers with the in­come they have re­ceived.

“The ini­tia­tive recog­nises the in­her­ent po­ten­tial of the East­ern Cape’s vast tracts of arable land, and that the proper use of land re­sources in South Africa by small-scale farm­ers has the po­ten­tial to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in en­hanc­ing food se­cu­rity, par­tic­u­larly in poor com­mu­ni­ties,” Mars­den adds.

The fi­nanc­ing of the ini­tia­tive comes from crop sales rev­enue as well as work­ing cap­i­tal loans from Wiphold, Ned­bank and Old Mu­tual. There is also grant fund­ing from gov­ern­ment.

WIPHOLD runs the farm­ing op­er­a­tion with the landown­ers whose role in­cludes erect­ing and main­tain­ing fenc­ing, as­sist­ing with plant­ing op­er­a­tions, guard­ing their fields, mon­i­tor­ing their crops, and har­vest­ing.

Mars­den says, “A train­ing and men­tor­ing pro­gramme en­sures skills trans­fer and fo­cuses on ar­eas such as ba­sic book­keep­ing, en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment, farm­ing and equip­ment man­age­ment. A shift to­ward self-sus­tain­abil­ity is slowly re­veal­ing it­self. A no­tice­able im­prove­ment has been ob­served in the num­ber of yard gar­dens be­ing planted to maize and a dra­matic im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of the crops.

“This is as­cribed to skills trans­fer both from train­ing pro­grammes and in-field men­tor­ing dur­ing the plant­ing sea­son. In 2017, one vil­lage also pooled com­pany’s em­pow­er­ment phi­los­o­phy.

Through these two en­ti­ties, WIPHOLD makes an im­pact daily on ben­e­fi­cia­ries across South Africa. They in­clude des­ig­nated groups, youth and dis­abled mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

Langa says the club chose WIPHOLD for sev­eral rea­sons. “They have a strong lead­er­ship team that has in­flu­ence in the South African fi­nan­cial land­scape. More­over, it has the same vi­sion of em­pow­er­ing women and chil­dren and val­ues and prin­ci­ples that we do.”

Ben­e­fi­cia­ries re­ceive 80 per­cent of each dis­tri­bu­tion, with the re­main­der do­nated to NGOs that ben­e­fit women and chil­dren. Since its in­cep­tion in 1997, the Trust has dis­trib­uted just over R140-mil­lion to the di­rect women ben­e­fi­cia­ries and more than R35-mil­lion to var­i­ous NGOs.

The trust, with an 18.6 per­cent share­hold­ing in WIPHOLD, is a pow­er­ful in­stru­ment that en­ables the group to touch the lives of more than 200,000 black women through the var­i­ous non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions that make up the trust’s in­di­rect ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

One of those NGOs is the Na­tional Bap­tist Church, first in­tro­duced to the WIPHOLD in­vest­ment model in 1994. its in­di­vid­ual cash dis­tri­bu­tions to buy equip­ment with which to start a new en­ter­prise which is thriv­ing. Other vil­lages have in­di­cated their in­ten­tion to do the same.

“Work,” she adds, “is also be­ing done on a busi­ness

He­len Maachi, First Lady at the church, con­cedes, “It was a chal­lenge to change the mind­set of putting all your money into a sim­ple sav­ings ac­count or un­der the mattress and rather use it to fund big­ger in­vest­ments. Women no longer have to re­sign them­selves to be­ing a house­wife on a lit­tle ru­ral farm or con­fined to sit­ting at home wor­ry­ing about their chil­dren. Women have choices.”

Other ben­e­fi­ciary or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clude the likes of Peo­ple Op­pos­ing Women Abuse (POWA); the Tsh­waranang Le­gal Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre; the KwaDrabo Trust; nurs­ing union DENOSA, bank­ing union Sasbo, the SA Coun­cil of Churches, and the plan to es­tab­lish a whole­sale co-op linked to the ini­tia­tive, which would sell farm­ing es­sen­tials such as chem­i­cals, seeds and fer­tiliser. This will help di­ver­sify the in­come streams of the ini­tia­tive’s gov­ern­ing en­tity in which Wiphold has a 40 per­cent share­hold­ing. The re­main­der is held by the com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pants.”

Mars­den, says the com­pany is likely to re­main in­volved in the ini­tia­tive once it has be­come fully self-sus­tain­able, be­cause it would make good busi­ness sense.

“Part of WIPHOLD’s rea­son for start­ing the ini­tia­tive was to chal­lenge fi­nan­cial and other agri-fi­nance in­sti­tu­tions to make fi­nance more read­ily and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to small-scale and emerg­ing farm­ers. We have al­ready ob­served a very rapid ap­pre­ci­a­tion among our com­mu­nity part­ners for the com­mer­cial na­ture of the ven­ture, in­clud­ing a loan to be re­paid. Fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, and for that mat­ter in­put sup­pli­ers, should take note of what is pos­si­ble in ar­eas that they would or­di­nar­ily per­ceive as high cost and high risk.”

A prof­itable and grow­ing busi­ness, sus­tain­able eco­nomic up­lift­ment and in­creas­ing food se­cu­rity are not the only up­shots.

She says, “Quan­ti­ta­tive anal­y­sis does not take into ac­count the so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact the project is hav­ing. Com­mu­ni­ties are en­gag­ing one an­other and are busy in a way they weren’t be­fore, and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, are be­ing treated with dig­nity and are de­vel­op­ing a sense that their fu­tures can be bet­ter than they had ex­pected.” Makaota De­vel­op­ment Trust amongs oth­ers.

More than R115-mil­lion has flowed to these or­gan­i­sa­tions from WIPHOLD’s in­vest­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

Div­i­dends re­ceived have as­sisted or­gan­i­sa­tions like Denosa to em­power nurses to be ef­fec­tive lead­ers in their field and de­liver qual­ity care. POWA has been able to con­tin­u­ally pro­vide ser­vices to sur­vivors of do­mes­tic abuse and rape. Sasbo runs sev­eral projects in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes for black women and girls and even a lemon grass plant­ing ini­tia­tive in KwaZulu-Natal.

Pro­fes­sor Le­bobe As­nath Masipa, af­ter more than 23 years, still believes her group’s in­vest­ment

A com­mu­nity mem­ber shares, “I used to work in Joburg and travel home past large [com­mer­cial] farms in the Free State that went on as far as the eye could see. I never dreamt that this could hap­pen here in Cen­tane.”

An­other says: “We are em­ploy­ing our youth on the project and pay­ing them a salary from our in­come so that they can see they don’t need to go to the city to look for a job.” in WIPHOLD, af­ter at­tend­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at a com­mu­nity hall in Mm­batho, Mafikeng on a fate­ful day in 1995, was in­spired.

“They had in­vited women to a work­shop to hear about their vi­sion for cre­at­ing a com­pany to em­power women. It was in­spir­ing and con­vinced us to form a group of 20 women that could in­vest. We called it the Tirisano Group, which means work­ing to­gether, and it still ex­ists.

“We have kept firm re­la­tions over the years and through it we are re­minded to live and love and to ex­press our­selves as dig­ni­fied and em­pow­ered women.”

Proud Cen­tane landown­ers

Maize yields are al­ready up to about 8tons/ha on some of the lands and the com­mu­nal farm­ers in­creas­ingly speak the lan­guage of com­mer­cial own­er­ship and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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