Dlamini-Zuma embarks on a fact-finding mission to see how a unique farming project is empowering and changing lives
On a sunny winter morning, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma finds herself sitting in a boardroom amid the tranquil environment complemented by bird whistles and the rolling countryside outside – surrounded by farmers.
It all sounds like the last place a minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs can be expected.
But there she was, flanked by the managing director of a 100-year-old family farming business, Kallie Schoeman, and Roelf Meyer, a former cabinet minister and community and economic development activist.
Dlamini-Zuma was on a fact-finding mission on one of the country’s most successful farming estates known as Schoeman Boerdery in Delmas, Mpumalanga.
She explained her interest in that space even though she was not the agricultural minister.
“Many people think of cooperative governance and traditional affairs as a local government department [but] we are a department charged with seeing that what is in the Constitution – about government working together – all departments working together from national to provincial and local government.”
Dlamini-Zuma said she was worried about the continuing inequality in South Africa and the lack of opportunities for those passionate about farming.
She said she believed that “where there is land, it must be utilised”.
“We see young white people work on the land … we see young black people who have some land, but it is not being worked. You see one side is green and the other is brown … how can we work together to turn both sides green?
“We can assist … where farmers want to meet communities and talk to them, that can be facilitated. We will partner in terms of facilitating access and ensure people don’t think you [farmers] are there to take their small piece of land,” she said.
Meyer said the minister was there on a mission to find out how agriculture can play a role in the upliftment of rural communities.
He said Dlamini-Zuma called him because of the Public-Private Growth Initiative, which is Meyer and his friend Johan van Zyl, the Toyota Europe chief executive’s brainchild.
The initiative plays a mediation role in bringing government and the private sector close and creating an enabling environment for economic growth and employment creation, among other things, across economic sectors.
When the minister asked to visit a project where the upliftment and development of rural communities and emerging farmers was already happening, Meyer could not think of any other place than Schoeman Boerdery, which is in the hands of the family’s fourth generation.
From the Schoemans to emerging black commercial farmers benefiting from empowerment projects, she heard how it was done, and about its impact as well as challenges.
SCHOEMAN’S COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND EMPOWERMENT PROJECTS
Schoeman said one of their family business’ sustainable model pillars was “taking care of the community and the area where we’re farming”.
“We’ve got lots of people coming with us through the generations, born and bred in our farms. We provide 600 permanent jobs and about 3 500 seasonal jobs for citrus pickers and packaging,” he said, adding that they were also propelled by the vision of leaving a lasting legacy and improving people’s lives.
Dlamini-Zuma was taken through a presentation on the company’s “broad-based livelihoods programme which is about growing economies from the households up”.
Msizi is one of the Schoemans’ socio-economic empowerment projects through which communities are “empowered out of poverty into productive economic activities with whatever limited resources they have at hand, to create their own livelihoods, income, jobs and with no ceiling to how far they can go”.
This project has four stages – crawling, walking, running and flying.
In the crawling stage households are trained and get help in basic horticulture – from composting to producing enough for family. This means they don’t spend money buying vegetables.
As they grow the next stage would be walking. Participants produce enough to sell to their neighbours for extra income.
In the running stage, the business gets serious and supply reaches a bigger market.
Then follows the flying stage where the producer shifts to full-time farming for a living “becoming commercial job creators and having an even greater positive impact in their communities”.
Zamukele is another project. The company adopts an emerging farmer and helps them grow.
In one area, Schoeman Boerdery, which supplies white beans to big brands, provides seed and fertilisers to its farmers where they struggle.
After harvest they sell their produce to the family estate.
Mothibeli Sehlabo from Bloemfontein in the Free State, is an emerging commercial farmer on this project.
He said black farmers were still struggling with access to support.
“There is no clear criteria to follow for input support and subsidies and this has left many farmers out. We need a system that is based on quality and not biased but [it should] provide fair opportunities.”
Sehlabo said emerging farmers needed to be trained on how to manage their farms as businesses, work towards total independence and not spend all their profits without putting aside money for inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, because they depended on subsidies.
Ramodisa Monaisa, an emerging farmer from Mahikeng, in the North West, said municipalities have a role to play in agriculture.
He said land should be made available for crop farming and “space created for engagement on how municipalities can help farmers who will then create jobs and boost the local economy”.
THE MINISTER’S VISION
Dlamini-Zuma would like to see opportunities created where people are not forced by circumstances to migrate in search of greener pastures.
She said such prospects could be created through agriculture, among other fields.
“We’re not saying rural people must not migrate to cities if they want to …. they must migrate out of choice and not out of desperation. We must create the environment in the local space that gives them that choice where they can say, ‘maybe I can still stay here even as an engineer, I can work here and live here’.”
She said the vision was to have a plan for each district in the country where all stakeholders would come together to create a plan to work towards its success.
She believed that what was happening at the Schoeman Boerdery could be spread across the country.
“The model can be replicated but it can also be modified.”
The minister urged more commercial and established farmers to come on board and create “happy” communities.
“If there are people who are so unhappy because they have no jobs, nothing to eat; they actually have no stake in the future of this country and so, why should they protect your bottom line … when things are really bad they can go and be in a destructive mood because they have nothing to lose,” she said.
Meyer said the meeting in Delmas was “an explorative discussion” around the empowerment and development project model at Schoeman Boerdery.
He said the intention was to “identify possibly three towns, communities, areas around the country where this experiment can be launched and later then roll it out to the rest of South Africa”.