Sometimes it takes a quarter-century for your hard work to be recognised and rewarded. Just ask Frans Malela, a former electrician from Marble Hall in Limpopo who now is one of South Africa’s leading cotton farmers.
Malela received another feather in his cap last night at Cotton South Africa’s glitzy prize-giving ceremony at the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre in Boksburg, Gauteng. The ceremony was preceded by the historic first industry indaba with more than 200 delegates including clothing retail giants such as the Mr Price Group, farmers, ginners and many other industry role-players.
Malela was one of the 27 cotton leaders honoured by Cotton SA and the South African Cotton Cluster. Malela says, “To have received this in front of everybody… Everyone can see that my project is working. (These days) I am also busy training ten new farmers, trying to get them to choose the cotton industry. Currently, we are only meeting a quarter of the cotton demand in the country. There are many opportunities awaiting.”
In their commendation, Cotton SA says Malela joined the industry in 2000 by planting just six hectares. Now he plants approximately 100 hectares on dryland on average per year. He is also compliant with the Better Cotton Initiative and employs six permanent workers and up to 150 seasonal workers during the cotton harvesting season.
Other awardees included Leonard Venter, the Limpopo farmer who is widely recognised for his work in turning the cotton industry after a difficult period. The Cotton SA chairperson says he was taken aback by the standing ovation from cotton farmers and industry leaders. “It really means a lot to me. And it is the result of lots of hard work. I was quite moved.”
Venter says Cotton SA is committed to enhancing the marketability of cotton through research, quality standards and norms and training. They are also passionate about developing small-scale farmers to invest in the future of the industry. “We are really proud of this country’s emerging farmers, and really, we put in quite a bit to mentor and train all of them – to ensure that they are successful. The 250 small-scale farmers under our wing are already planting about 2 000 hectares.”
‘Father of cotton in SA also honoured’
The South African Cotton Cluster says they decided to surprise Venter with an award to honour him for determination to promote the cotton value chain and to support industry-related institutions. He recognised the demise of the cotton industry in 2013 and 2014 and was the key initiator of a bold plan to turn around the cotton industry, bringing various role-players together that led to the establishment of the Sustainable Cotton Cluster programme.
In their report the adjudicators said, “Venter is known for his strength of character and does not give up. He has a strong value system, believes in farmers and gives his continuous support towards a greater farming community by his involvement of over 40 years in the industry. He walks the footsteps of a true farmer and also has appreciation for the difficulties of farmers. He carries a large community responsibility and is recognized for his leadership, time, effort and commitment by serving many years on various agricultural bodies and his continuous support to the Cluster initiative.”
Petros Sithole received the Small-holder Farmer Award after approaching Cotton SA in 2014 to investigate and collaborate for funding for the Nkomazi cotton project in Mpumalanga with great success. Since then, more than 700 farmers plant close to 2 000 hectares on dryland fields in the region.
Sithole told Food For Mzansi, “I originally started grouping the cotton farmers in Nkomazi because I saw that they were struggling. They weren’t BCI compliant and also had other difficulties. Together with Cotton SA and the department of rural development and land reform we were able to help them. To think, I was (originally) a vegetable and sugarcane farmer when people started asking why I’m not going into cotton. It was a great decision.”
Award for farmer with sustainable farming practices
The Better Cotton Initiative Farmer Award went to Johan and Corné de Klerk from the Sanleohan Trust who took part in the BCI project for the first year in the 2018-2019 cotton season. Together with Nico Swart from Koedoeskop Gin they worked hard to get all the BCI requirements in place. They received a 100% clean audit from the BCI external auditors and was accredited with a five-year license. BCI is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. Together with its partners, BCI provides training on more sustainable farming practices to more than two million cotton farmers in 21 countries, including South Africa.
Jozeph du Plessis from Locklore Boerdery was awarded for playing an outstanding role as a new entrant in dryland farming. He excels in taking part in organised agriculture, which includes Agri North West, Agri SA and Grain SA, and is also involved in agricultural upliftment initiatives through Grain SA. He is involved in various black empowerment initiatives in the Schweizer-Reneke area of North West.
D.B. Lubbe, a new cotton farmer from Danrika Boerdery, was also honoured as a new entrant in the category for commercial cotton production under irrigation. He succeeded despite being set back by a significant hail storm in January 2019 on his farm. The judges say his cotton quality was of a good standard and he has employed six permanent workers while making use of GWK staff to assist him.
Lodewyk Young was awarded in the category for commercial cotton production on dryland. He has been farming with dryland cotton for the last 25 years, is an Integrated Pest Management supporter and also participates in community safety strategies.
Furthermore, Johan Buitendag was honoured in the category for commercial cotton production under irrigation. He has been planting cotton for almost five years, is BCI compliant and supports Integrated Pest Management production methods. Buitendag promotes new technologies like dragon-lines as a drip irrigation practice and is currently investigating new sustainable farming methods.
The South African cotton industry has achieved major successes in the last few years. Industry-wide there has been a 500% increase in hectares of cotton planted, and a whopping 800% increase in local cotton production. The country’s cotton farmers and ginners have committed more than R500 million in private investment whilst the industry currently employs about 250 000 people.