Successfully building the emerging farmer sector

Speaking at Nampo’s Nation in Conversation about successful empowerment projects, Phillip Retief, CEO of Van Loveren wines said initiators of projects must become involved because they want to be involved, not because they have to be involved.

Van Loveren launched its first empowerment project in 2004.

“The first project was seen as far-fetched, but we worked with the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) government project and received subsidies for labourers who wanted to become involved. We empowered 166 workers and bought 138ha vineyards with workers having a 52% share,” said Retief.

He said those who start projects must realise that the needs of all who become involved are different, often because of age, and should be respected.

“The project must be based on sound business principles and be able to make it commercially in the long-term,” he added.

Retief said Van Loveren does not always get the recognition from government it would want, but use its projects as a foot in the door for more projects.

He said government on provincial and national level did not always communicate about what happened on ground level.

He gave the example of a producer who just wanted to get going, while government had various requirements that involved dealing with different departments. One needed patience with government bureaucracy, while financial institutions wanted to show a profit.

Lennox Plaatjies, from the Witsenberg Partners in Agri land Solutions (PALS) project, which in conjunction with commercial farmers in the Western Cape acquired 4 200ha land, with 55 projects running on it, said one of the reasons for their success was establishing a central point where all decisions about the projects were made.

The Witsenberg project only looked at individuals with potential, who then underwent psychometric tests, and thereafter were developed under mentorship from commercial farmers. “Despite political differences on all levels all stakeholders work together towards the same goal,” said Plaatjies.

Solomon Masango, New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year, said that for him owning land was still an issue. “I leased land, but when the lessor saw I was successful they ended the contract before it expired,” he said.