Who better to lead a farmer development company than a man who worked his way up in agriculture – from a very humble start?
Even before Aron Kole, managing director of FarmSol Holdings, became an agronomist and started his 15-year-long career in the agriculture sector, he was getting to know it from the ground up.
The company he leads changes the lives and boosts the businesses of up-and-coming farmers by linking them to multinational companies.
Kole was born in the small mining village of Kanana in the vicinity of Rustenburg, North West, where he spent his childhood years helping out an elderly man in his village.
“My love for agriculture started at the age of ten when, as a young boy, after school and during weekends I used donkeys to plough the fields planting maize, beans and sunflowers with a one-furrow plough in my rural village near Rustenburg in North West. I did so for an elderly man called Ntate Seloko,” he says.
Even though it was curiosity that made him gravitate towards agriculture, it is agriculture’s purpose that makes him continue devoting himself to the sector.
“Agriculture has a strong multiplier effect, and it is an area [where] I want to spend the rest of my life contributing towards fighting poverty and alleviating hunger. Agriculture is really true wealth, not just because of what you can gain from it, but what you’re able to give because of it,” he says.
Food For Mzansi caught up with Kole to ask about what drives him and the work he does.
Sinesipho Tom: How did you become involved with farmer development and FarmSol?
Aron Kole: The SAB Thrive Fund appointed me to head FarmSol as the managing director in August 2018, so I am turning three years with FarmSol this month. It has been an exciting and rewarding journey and I am excited about what the future holds for all our stakeholder farmers, financing partners and our employees.
What is the objective of the company?
FarmSol aims to create sustained value for the emerging farmer and companies in the food and beverage sector by connecting these two parts of the supply chain: emerging farmers as agricultural raw material suppliers and multinationals in the food and beverage sector as buyers of the agricultural raw materials produced by emerging farmers.
We strive to nurture dedicated emerging farmers to the point where they can thrive independently as sustainable, successful farmers who in the future will not need to rely on grants or any form of broad-based development support.
Who are your beneficiaries and where do they come from?
Our beneficiaries are emerging black farmers who already started grain production and who have the basic farming knowledge and passion for agriculture and who need the support to grow into bankable farming enterprises. These farmers come from all provinces of South Africa.
How long have you been involved in the agriculture sector and what are some of the other roles you have been involved in?
I have been in the agricultural industry for over 15 years, working at various agribusinesses in the private sector. I started out as an agronomist where I gained technical knowledge on grain production, working for a prominent agribusiness in North West. I later joined a fertiliser company where I was involved in various roles, including marketing, sales and project management. These opportunities gave me good insights and experience into driving projects aimed at providing solutions to smallholder and emerging farmers in South Africa.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing farmers in the agriculture sector today?
Farming itself is already a complex and unpredictable business and many challenges come naturally with the job of being a farmer. Policy uncertainties, unpredictable weather conditions and tight profit margins remain some of the biggest challenges a farmer faces today.
What were some of the biggest obstacles faced by farmers during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The lockdown restrictions that limited mobility caused some labour shortages in certain parts. Also, the banning of the trade of alcohol affected farmers supplying this market with agricultural raw materials.
Why agriculture and not any other career?
Agriculture has a strong multiplier effect, and it is an area I want to spend the rest of my life contributing towards, fighting poverty and alleviating hunger. Agriculture is really true wealth, not just because of what you can gain from it, but what you’re able to give because of it.
What are FarmSol’s farmer development plans for the future?
In the near future we are looking at onboarding new partners in our programme so that we expand beyond the SAB supply chain. This will enable us to offer opportunities to more farmers and support farmers to plant additional crops, thereby linking them to other multinationals in the food and beverage sector.