New agribusiness transformation programme

Sponsored by Standard Bank

A five-year, multi-pronged programme that brings together government, academia and the private sector’s financial expertise has been launched in the Free State.

The programme aims to enhance the delivery of crucial skills to black farmers involved in the production of crops and livestock.

Funded by Standard Bank and supported by the faculties of Agriculture and Entrepreneur Development at the University of the Free State, the programme is focused on farmers identified and supported by the Free State’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In a unique approach to transformation and development, commercial farmers involved in primary and secondary agriculture who receive grants from the Department of Agriculture are being given the opportunity to hone their skills both on and off their farms, says Nico Groenewald, the head of Agribusiness at Standard Bank.

“The objective of the programme is to ensure that farmers receiving financial assistance become sustainable to the point where they can source funding for growing their operations from the traditional banking sector.”

Diale Mokgojwa, senior manager for Enterprise Development at Standard Bank, said the University of the Free State had designed several modules to address weaknesses obstructing the farmers’ ability to become viable commercial enterprises.

“The Agribusiness Transformation Programme is aimed at having an impact on 60 farmers engaged in primary agriculture and 15 in secondary agriculture — an activity that includes processing outputs from contracted farmers, small-scale milling, the operation of feedlots and similar activities,” he said.

“The project is seen as a launchpad to increased involvement in agriculture around the country. The intention is to fill agriculture’s ‘missing middle’ and enable small-scale farmers to become viable commercial enterprises that have the potential for further growth. Presently, there is a dearth of these medium-sized operations in South African agriculture.”

The factors making the programme more relevant include that participants in Free State farming activities are ageing; the number of people entering the sector is declining; and that food security relies primarily on production from large commercial farming operations.

“The development of this sector and the creation of medium-sized enterprises is, therefore, vital to the future of food production in South Africa,” Groenewald said.

Once the programme’s success in the Free State has been gauged, it is intended that it will be introduced in other provinces. Provinces earmarked are the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape.

To date, 25 farmers have undergone a selection process supervised by the university. As the programme progresses, they will be offered skills training and practical support on their farm, a process that will allow what they have learnt to be applied and tested in a ‘live’ situation.

Specially selected mentors will work with farmers to identify and close the operational gaps in their day-to-day activities. These could vary from financial and administrative skills to crop and livestock production.

“The programme is unique in that it provides ‘end-to-end’ support,” said Groenewald.

“The farmer, instead of being given some training and then being left to his own devices, can farm secure in the knowledge that advice is always at hand. He can access the experience required to boost his skills to the point where he becomes a confident, independent operator.”