Agribusinesses compete to support school

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Eben Dönges primary school in Bothaville in the Free State has enlisted the support of the private agriculture sector in an innovative way, says Annelie Coleman.

The Eben Dönges primary school consists of 300 learners from Bothaville and the neighbouring township Khotsong. In order to accommodate the multi-language learners, the classes are small, comprising not more than 25 learners.

This means at least 13 additional teaching posts for which the school is financially responsible. “This is why the support of the community and the private sector play such an important role in making it possible for us to afford our learners the best possible education,” says Eben Dönges principal Johan van Niekerk.

The school’s maize and soya bean production competition is its flagship fundraiser. The soya bean competition has been running for the past three years. “I’m not at liberty to disclose the amount of money we’ve collected over the years, but its
effect has been invaluable in our quest to provide top class education,” says Johan.

The grains are planted and harvested by the participating producers. The plot that shows the biggest profits at the end of the season wins the competition. Profits earmarked for the school are calculated after the competitors’ input costs have been deducted.

Land is leased from local farmers and planted with seed donated by Monsanto. Some 17ha were planted to soya in the past production season.

Agrilogix, Soygro, MFBI, Microbial Solutions and Agchem took part in the most recent competition, and the land was divided into 2,85ha plots for each soya provider.

Competition rules
MFBI, Microbial Solution and BASF have already committed to the 2015/2016 season, says JB van den Berg, co-ordinator of the soya competition. “The 2014/2015 average soya yield was 2,5t/ ha lower than previous years because of the drought in the western summer grain production region,” he adds. “For the 2015/2016 season we plan to change the rules of the competition

so as to only accommodate four participants planting trials of their latest cultivars without competing with each other. The profits will still be earmarked for the school.”

Dfert, Omnia, Agrilogix, Profert, Greenlands and Triomf took part in the past production season’s maize competition
This consists of six 2,64ha plots. The two top companies, Agrilogix and Omia, realised average yields of 3,11t/ha and 3,07t/ha in the 2014/2015.

“They did well, given the last year’s devastating drought,” says maize co-ordinator Eduard Dreyer. “We haven’t sold the maize yet, but we’ve worked on a maize price of R2 800/t to determine profits.

“The project has been so successful over the years that we’re planning on expanding it in future.“

The projects also teach learners the true value of agriculture and highlight the crucial role that farmers play in ensuring food security for South Africa, the economics of grain production, dependence on the environment and climatic conditions and all the other factors determining profitable grain production.

Nurturing a love for the land
Learners regularly visit the different grain plots to keep abreast of the practicalities of production. “The soya and maize competitions are not merely fundraising projects,” says Johan. “We also try to foster a love for the land and an appreciation for agriculture with our learners through this initiative. That’s also one of the reasons we have a vegetable garden.”

Through its grain projects, the school is able to keep fees relatively low. “We are a proud school, committed to the best possible education for each child in our care – from the youngest one in the pre-primary classes to the oldest Grade 7 learner,” says Johan.

“In order to achieve that goal we need the involvement of the entire community. Our grain project underscores the support we get. With the money we earned in this way we can afford to give our learners a little bit extra.

“A maize kernel and a soya bean are very small, but through the commitment of the farming community and the agricultural business sector we have been able to amass enough of each to make a significant difference in our school.

“We can never thank all the role players enough for their input and commitment.”

Phone Eben Dönges School at 056 515 2591.