Spar’s rural hub gives small-scale farmers a leg up

Started in 2016, Spar’s rural hub empowers small-scale farmers through skills transfer and economic participation. Now the retailer has again won a coveted prize at the Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards

The Spar rural hub initiative started off focused on low-value produce, but later moved into high-value produce like cocktail tomatoes and baby vegetables which are sent to the group's distribution centres. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The Spar rural hub initiative started off focused on low-value produce, but later moved into high-value produce like cocktail tomatoes and baby vegetables which are sent to the group's distribution centres. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Spar South Africa’s rural hub programme has been announced as the winner in the rural and township development category at the Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards for the second consecutive year.

The programme is described as Spar’s response to the importance of pulling up-and-coming farmers into the formal economy. It is a collaboration between small-scale farmers, Spar input suppliers and funders.

James Lonsdale, Spar’s group sustainability manager, says: “We are incredibly grateful for the award as it recognises the dedicated, hard-working small-scale farmers, our co-founders (Kagiso and FNB), our various input suppliers and service providers as well as the rural hub technical and management team.

“It’s only because each and every one of these people believes so much in this initiative that its ongoing success has been possible.”

Started in 2016, the hub contributes towards food security, food safety, nutrition, job creation and transformation by empowering small-scale farmers through skills transfer and economic participation.

The first hub was established in Limpopo with five small-scale farmers producing vegetables on 22 hectares of farmland. Since then, it has expanded to 13 farmers on 126 hectares.

Tumi Moropane, Spar agronomist, with Leyda Sekgobela, a farmer in the rural hub initiative. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Overcoming value chain challenges

“Smaller producers have traditionally struggled to enter value chains and face many obstacles, so the rural hub was designed to overcome these hurdles. Today they provide fresh produce to three of Spar’s distribution centres under the Freshline brand.

“What doesn’t meet our requirements is sold into local communities, with a positive knock-on effect for food security and nutrition in these communities.”

“This initiative delivers on our goal to develop sustainable, scalable and commercial farming operations in rural areas. To further support this, the participating farmers receive training covering all aspects of farm management and food safety, provided by an in-house team of qualified agronomists.

“We’ve also been learning throughout this process. Initially, we encouraged our farmers to plant low-value vegetables such as cabbage and spinach to meet the demand of rural Spar stores. It soon became clear, however, that margins on these crops were too low,” Lonsdale.

In 2020, the focus shifted to the production of high-value produce such as cocktail tomatoes, peppers and baby vegetables.

Grown under the protection of tunnels and net houses which were made possible by the Spar rural hub’s funding partnership with FNB and Kagiso, the high-value vegetables are sent to Spar’s distribution centres in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and distributed via the Spar group’s distribution network.

Support, empower small-scale local farmers

“Using this model, some of our entrepreneurs are becoming full-fledged commercial farmers in their own right, as yields reach commercial farming quality and quantity, opening up more opportunities to sell their produce.

“The result is that the rural hub model is now a tried and tested model and winning the Absa Business Day supplier award is a ringing endorsement for the initiative.

“As a group, our purpose is to inspire people to do and be more. Through our rural hubs and our drive to support and empower small-scale local farmers, we have been able to deliver on this as the programme has given us the opportunity to create jobs and sustain local economies by nurturing an ecosystem that alleviates poverty and provides affordable, nutritious food for all,” concludes Lonsdale.

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