Making farming a business success

Siyavuna Abalimi Development Centre is using community engagement and empowerment to help rural farms become viable businesses.

The non-profit organisation works in the Ugu District in rural KwaZulu-Natal, stimulating economic development through its agricultural programmes.

It sets up and registers rural-based co-operatives, which purchase and then resell local produce from farmers under the Kumnandi brand.

Produce is acquired at a price that is rewarding to farmers and, says Siyavuna, “the emphasis is on organic production, doing away with expensive and hazardous chemicals and reverting back to traditional planting methods”.

Siyavuna’s operations are guided by a model called the Agricultural Sustainable Community Investment Programme (Agri-SCIP), which, the NGO believes, creates a mechanism for cash to be brought into the community and circulated locally.

This increases local job creation and economic development, and reduces poverty.

By linking farmers to markets, “the programme provides a potential avenue for many of them to grow their production and skills base”.

By selling all produce under one brand, Siyavuna’s model minimises competition between local farmers.

The organisation trains and mentors farmers on organic farming methods and then links them to the local co-operative, providing a guaranteed market for their goods.

All of the co-operatives establish collection points within walking distance of the farms involved, making them viable selling points.

Farmers deliver goods weekly and are paid cash.

The co-operatives are made up of the farmers themselves, giving them an opportunity to learn to operate successfully and to manage an agricultural business — information they can take back into their communities and pass on to others.

Siyavuna director Diane Pieters says the co-operatives set up farmers’ associations in each area in which they operate.

A local farmer is voted in as a community field worker who assists at the collection point, as well as being able to represent the community on the co-operative board. Meetings are held in isiZulu so that everyone can participate fully.

Siyavuna employs trainers and mentors who provide ongoing support to farmers.

The majority of the farmers — more than 80% — involved are women, “the most vulnerable group in poor communities.

“By empowering women and providing an avenue for them to generate income from their land, they increase in financial independence”, says Pieters.

Developing agri-businesses
The organisation is also actively engaging with young people, encouraging them to develop their own agri-businesses through the Agri-SCIP model.

This will have a positive impact on poverty alleviation as a large number of rural unemployed youth are finding ways of becoming economically active without having to go to urban areas seeking formal employment, Pieters says.

“What differentiates Siyavuna from others in this space is that we grow and sell organic produce,” she says.

“Growing organically is closer to traditional farming practices and requires fewer inputs. It is therefore a cheaper way to produce goods and is done in a way that is good for the environment. It is also a healthier alternative for the families as they consume part of what they grow.”

Organic produce is usually sold at a premium price, which benefits the farmer-owned agri co-operatives. The income from sales of produce goes to the co-op and not to Siyavuna, says Pieters.

Some of the farmers involved in the programme get an even bigger hand up. Of the 320 participating farmers, 31 have been selected as advanced farmers, called M3 farmers.

These farmers have expressed a desire to develop their agri-businesses on a larger scale and Siyavuna is providing them with additional training in agriculture and entrepreneurship.

“The focus is on supporting them to establish successful agri-businesses that make a big difference in the fight against poverty,” Pieters says.

Siyavuna operates in seven areas and aims to increase this to 10 by the end of its 2013/14 financial year.

It also plans to expand its engagement with community participation by getting involved in the agricultural faculties of the local further education and training colleges, recruiting graduates, offering in-service training opportunities to agricultural students and engaging in the curriculum of the college.

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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