Grooming SA farmers for European markets

A Danish businessman’s tenacity and the commitment of a group of local emerging farmers have built up a thriving commercial business that enables its producers to compete on European markets. So successful is this enterprise that its 30 current members’ yield for this season is worth an estimated R72 million.

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About four years ago Andreas Ifversen, owner of the Danish birdseed company Naturfugl, came to SA aiming to recruit local farmers to produce seed for the European market. But he found that the necessary skills and resources were lacking.

With international resource development in mind, Andreas approached the Danish government for help and used his company’s funds to create a scheme addressing the constraints facing many black farmers. “European governments are all in favour of development in resource-poor communities, especially in Africa,” he says, explaining that the main problems were rundown farms and limited access to finance. T ogether, Andreas and a small group of Mpumalanga farmers established Masakhane Farming. The name means “working together” in Zulu, and this has been the operation’s motto from the start. “Our name reflects the idea behind the company, namely working together, farming across borders,” says Andreas. “goal is to utilise neglected resources among emerging black farmers.”

Realising dormant potential
Andreas says he realises there are black farmers who have land but lack the skills and finance to farm effectively. He firmly believes black farmers have the potential to succeed in the commercial market, but explains there is a dire need for practical knowledge of farm management. He says black farming enterprises and SA’s need for agricultural produce should be brought together on a level playing field. “In other words, the focus is to remove the financial and skills limitations black farmers face.”

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Farmers joining Masakhane Farming aren’t required to produce specific crops, although most grow sunflower and maize. Masakhane Farming markets the farmers’ products on European markets through their Danish partner, but the exact location and buyers remain a company secret. “Masakhane Farming is mandated to provide an offset point in Europe,” says Andreas. Currently, Masakhane Farming has about 30 members whose farms range from 100ha to 700ha. Andreas says the company’s estimated yield for the coming season is worth some R72 million, with 10 000ha planted to maize and sunflower. The farmers’ land is located in the Bronkhorstspruit, Ermelo, Brits and Migdol areas.

Stepping stones to independence

“The company has built up its own training system and has its own consultants who, working together with the farmers, are able to secure finance, government and other stakeholder success,” Andreas explains. The training covers practical experience of the problems a new farmer faces and the latest scientific developments within agriculture.” The training spans the spectrum of good farm management, including the best way to use implements, taking care of equipment, when and how to sow, drawing up a business plan and so on. Since Masakhane Farming’s inception, three farmers have become commercially independent and many others are firmly on their way.

Daniel Masongwa is a co-owner and one of its first members. Masongwa, a sunflower farmer near Bethanie, had immediate faith in the overseas investor. “I knew an overseas perspective would be a healthy one,” he says. “With the politics surrounding land restitution and the local perceptions of black farmers, it sometimes feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. But with Andreas and Naturfugl giving us the opportunity to compete globally, we have a fighting chance.”

More farmers needed
Masakhane Farming is still looking for emerging farmers who are serious about their farming business and want to take the management of their farm to an international level. “In return for joining Masakhane Farming, the farmer gets advice and training from skilled advisers and a share in a new international farming venture,” Andreas says. One such newcomer is Oupa Motsumi of Sonop near Hartbeesfontein, who recently heard about Masakhane Farming. “The opportunity to be part of a business while acquiring the necessary skills sounded wonderful,” he says. “I have a small piece of land and 15 pigs, and with the help of the company, I’m learning how to farm and working on future crop ventures.” Contact Masakhane Farming on (012) 252 0615 or e-mail AndreasIfversen at [email protected].