by Grain S.A.

A lifeline for farmers

SA government has potential to place farmers on a sustainable path

Supporting our rural farmers is the only way SA will remain food secure
black farmers.jpg

"If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again." This is the approach of the Farmer Development Programme at Grain SA and a motto which proved to let years of dedication to proper farmer development come to fruition at just the right time.

Manager of the farm development programme at Grain SA, Jane McPherson said: “A focus on human development is essential to achieve agricultural development, and eventually a united and prosperous agricultural sector.

“Over many years, we have invested in human capital and we are involved with the development of farmers.” This well-established development programme is operated through study groups on farm level.

Demonstration trials, farmer’s days, a farmer of the year competition, on farm-support to individual farmers, a multitude of training courses, radio broadcasts and the monthly Pula-Imvula newsletter all support the human development approach practiced by Jane and her dedicated team.

“All this is aimed at capacity building. We have seven development co-ordinators who toil tirelessly to invest in the lives of our farmers,” she added.

However, when you are a farmer, at some stage you have to get into the business of farming which means you have to have access to arable land, tractors, implements and production inputs.

This is where the real challenge begins. Over the past few years, crop production has not been very profitable and it has therefore been difficult for farmers to get production loans and they have had no surplus profits to invest in the farm or mechanisation.

“Having been let down badly by one of the larger commercial banks who promised loan finance but did not deliver, we were in a desperate position as our farmers needed financing. Efforts to access production finance from the Department of Agriculture have borne little fruit over years. Just as we were losing hope, officials from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) came to Bothaville to tell us about their recapitalisation programme,” McPherson said.

After much negotiation and discussion, an agreement was signed between DRDLR and Grain SA. In accordance with the agreement, business plans were prepared for 16 farmers who were the beneficiaries of the land reform programmes and who were part of the Grain SA farmer development programme. The total amount of R36-million was deposited into the new bank account and they were able to start with the implementation.

“This was very exciting but also quite daunting as all eyes were on the team!” McPherson recalled. It has always been the belief of Grain SA that they were never going to take decisions for farmers or farm for them.

All the organisation’s development programmes are designed to empower and develop the farmers – and they intended to do the same with the recapitalisation programme. To have sufficient support on the ground, five retired farmers were identified who indicated that they would be willing to act as mentors to these farmers (four of them were trainers in the programme).

Flip du Preez from Senekal is now mentoring five farmers there, Attie Louw is mentoring one farmer near Bloemfontein, Eduard Foord is supporting three farmers (Bothaville, Wesselsbron and Hennenman), Bertie Human is helping three farmers near Welkom and Johan van der Merwe is helping four farmers in Theunissen.

Concerning bookkeeping, they had to establish additional financial staff capacity in the Bothaville office as well as a new set of books. The farmers have heir own codes, which has made it possible to keep a detailed record of each and every transaction and monitor the spending against the budget.

“Although the business plans had been developed and signed off by each farmer, we felt it very important to have the farmers involved in every step of the way. We devised a system whereby the farmer and the mentor have to make out an order for every purchase – quotations for expenditure have to accompany the order. The reason for the quotations is so that we are sure to be using the money very wisely and at the same time, teaching our farmers the value of comparative shopping,” McPherson explained.

The physical payments are made electronically from Bothaville, in accordance with the Grain SA processes and procedures.

After a payment is made, the farmer, the mentor and the supplier receive an sms informing them of the payment. The supplier also receives a remittance advice so that the items can be delivered. As Grain SAs farmer development started implementing the programme in October last year, they had to prioritise the expenditure – first the necessary tractors and equipment (both new and used), then production inputs. Once the crops had been established, they were able to focus on other areas – livestock and infrastructure.

To date, the farmers have used R33-million of the R36-million originally approved – controlled spending will continue until the entire budget is used.

On 17 May, during Grain SAs National Maize Producers’ Organisation (NAMPO) Harvest Day, a special event referred to as the ‘recap reunion’, was held to celebrate the successes of the first year of the recapitalisation programme. Five of the farmers in the programme shared with guests how the programme has improved their farming operations.

With a first recap year under the knee, McPherson and her team are delightfully positive about the future of the programme. McPherson concluded: “One realises that there is still a lot of work ahead, as development is a process and not an event. We remain focused on achieving our goal, which is to develop black commercial farmers who have capacity and to contribute to household and national food security through the optimal use of the natural resources available to each farmer.”

 

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