The agricultural sector plays an important role in South Africa by providing job and food security to many people in the country, particularly those in rural communities. According to Statistics South Africa, the agriculture sector expanded by 15.1% and was the only positive contributor to the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) in the second quarter of 2020.
Khakhu Mutheiwana, who runs the Vhaluvhu Farm near Soekmekaar in Limpopo credits the partnerships she has made in the agriculture sector for the success of her farm. She also says partnerships such as these will help the industry stay afloat and continue to positively contribute to the country.
One such partnership she has established is with McCain, which started in 2018 – when they subsidised her labour and land preparation costs in the financial year, Mutheiwana explains. “McCain’s intervention enabled my farm’s continuity as we strived to become self-sustainable.”
She continues that technical advice is extremely beneficial to upcoming or emerging farmers who, like herself, do not come from a farming background. “McCain’s standard contract comes with access to technical advice and since our partnership, I have gained valuable potato and sweet potato production knowledge from the company’s technical advisory programme.”
McCain, one of the largest suppliers of frozen foods in South Africa, has three commercially operating farms across three different growing regions in the country, providing rewarding employment opportunities for local people and stimulating rural economies through the purchase of local goods and services. McCain is the largest employer in Delmas, a small maize farming town in Mpumalanga, and an integral part of the community.
Farms bring job opportunities in the community
Mutheiwana, who started farming in 2016 after growing up in a family that farms, currently employs 35 seasonal workers in the Soekmekaar area. The farm started out growing cabbages and butternut. However, as Mutheiwana grew into the business and understood agriculture better, she realised that potatoes were a staple in South Africa. She decided to start growing them on a small scale.
‘Farming is a capital intensive business to start from scratch, and food production can never be a one-person business.’
Mutheiwana notes that while farms play an essential role in creating job opportunities in the community and inspire other young people, especially females, to get into farming, it is not without its challenges. “Factors such as climate change come with diseases and various pest infections. More research and advanced farming technologies will accelerate South Africa’s global competitiveness in terms of agriculture. On a smaller scale, challenges like access to credit, transport, storage and infrastructure make it difficult for upcoming farmers to participate in commercial agriculture.”
She continues that covid-19 did not only impact the industry as a whole but certainly her day-to-day activities on the farm. “Covid-19 did not only inconvenience or slow down daily activities on the farm but came with a high price tag in terms of precautions and restrictions based on government regulations that must be met for optimal operation of the farm.”
Food security is everyone’s business
A decline in farmers in South Africa has meant an impact on food security in the country, with the number of commercial farmers in the country set to drop from 40 000 in 2011 to 15 000 by 2026. The loss of farmers would also lead to job losses in rural areas, where farming and agriculture is the most significant employer.
Mutheiwana says that the issue of food security should be everyone’s business with the government at the forefront. “There is a huge gap between the number of new and emerging farmers versus retired or retiring farmers. Farming is a capital intensive business to start from scratch, and food production can never be a one-person business. It required partnerships and most importantly, active involvement from the government.”
She continues, “We cannot ignore our country’s history. With the majority of us coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, it becomes impossible to venture into farming without valuable partnerships to assist not only with pecuniary but with technical knowledge as well. There are great opportunities for young people in farming, but the active participation of the government in assisting aspiring and existing young farmers is what our country needs.”
Gaining valuable production knowledge
While food security and job opportunities are key factors in agriculture, Mutheiwana encourages sustainable farming practices for the prosperity of the industry. “In our farm, we utilise contour ploughing to prevent soil erosion. We also rotate crops to promote healthier soil and improve pest control. We also integrate livestock and crops for the availability of abundant manure fertilisers in our fields.”
When it comes to the future of the Vhaluvhu Farm, Mutheiwana cites her short-term goals as being able to acquire equipment instead of hiring. “We are lucky to have sufficient water on the farm and a sizable portion of arable land. We are currently only using 30% of the farm. We intend to gradually increase capacity by installing further irrigation systems and opening new fields to increase production in terms of tonnage,” she concludes.