ANC tries its hand at artichoke farming

2014-10-26 17:00

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Next time you order artichokes on your pizza, particularly in Johannesburg, you may have the ANC to thank for the pleasure.

The governing party is using the farm, from which it will eventually run its political school, to corner the market in artichokes.

Italy, Spain and Egypt are the world’s largest producers of the edible flower, but the ANC is working with farmers in the Vredefort Dome area near Parys, in the Free State to challenge the establishment.

If all goes according to plan, the valley will produce 300 tons of artichokes in the year ahead and hold its first artichoke festival.

The ANC bought the farm, then called Buffelshoek, on the banks of the Vaal River in 2010.

City Press reported earlier this year that the party was negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party over funding for the political school.

For now, it’s growing pecan nuts, artichokes, vegetables and herbs with ANC treasurer-general Dr Zweli Mkhize keeping a close eye on the work.

Dakawa manager Derrick Gleeson said the artichokes were flourishing because the soil and climate were ideal.

“In the past year, we produced close on 60 tons of artichokes which we sold to restaurants in Johannesburg and pizza chains,” Gleeson said.

“There is a huge demand, but we don’t have the space for more plants. We have approached farmers in the area so that more people can benefit from this gold mine.”

Gleeson has given between 50 and 100 plants to five farmers in the area with the intention of buying the resulting artichokes and processing, packaging and selling them to restaurants.

“There is huge growth in the South African market at the moment. Many farmers in the area want to be part of the project. We can all get rich together.”

The ANC also wants to build a factory where artichokes can be canned and bottled so that they can be distributed all over the country or exported across the globe.

“Why should we continue importing artichokes when we have the ideal conditions for cultivating them?” Gleeson asked.

Stephen Theron (55) has a farm about 5km from Dakawa, where he farms cattle and Arab horses. He is one of five farmers who received plants from Gleeson.

“The plants are extremely well suited to the very sandy soil in this area,” he said.

“They are highly sought after and expensive. It’s almost like craft beer – everybody now wants artichokes.”

Theron says artichokes have a niche market with great potential and is convinced the Vredefort Dome area can eventually become “the artichoke valley of the world”.

He is also enthusiastic about the ANC’s involvement in the project.

“They could actually have done it themselves, but they wanted to get more people involved. This is a very good initiative. They want to kick-start the industry here.”

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