Workers smile from ear to ear

2012-04-21 13:35

A Mpumalanga farmer’s ambitious initiative to transform his workers into self-sufficient commercial farmers is slowly taking shape.

Colin Forbes of Athole Farm near Amsterdam donated 10% of his 5 600 hectare farm to his 34 workers last year and is training them to run a successful farming enterprise.

Forbes believes he can produce a fully fledged commercial farmer in three years. His initiative adopts a model that aims to:

» Encourage white commercial farmers to contribute to South Africa’s land reform process by offering to impart their skills and placate white farmers on the issue of transferring land ownership to blacks;

» Ensure that there’s food security and economic growth in rural areas as opposed to the multitude of farms that lie fallow as soon as they are transferred to black beneficiaries; and

» Bring government on board by compensating farmers fairly for willingly releasing portions of their land to their labourers.

Forbes gave each of his workers a hectare on which to train and he has carried all costs of tractors, implements and seeds. A further 26 workers will join the mentorship programme in the next planting season.

The workers have each borrowed R7 000 to finance the direct costs of planting a hectare of maize, which they will pay back at no interest with the income from their harvest in July.

Forbes said he and his protégés were expecting a yield of 7.5 to eight tons per hectare, which comes to about 255 tons for the beneficiaries’ combined 34 hectares of maize fields.

The price of a ton of maize is R2 250, which equates to about R600 000 turnover in total. Each beneficiary will make between R16 875 and R18 000 turnover from his portion.

“Commercial farmers are best placed to mentor their own employees as they have the scars of experience, which cannot be bought at any price,” Forbes said.

“They also have the other advantage of being able to provide on-site, in-service training in an ongoing manner, which teaches appropriate responses to ever-changing scenarios and day-to-day challenges. In turn, farm labourers have the best chance of successfully emerging as independent commercial farmers as they already have a great deal of experience in all aspects of farming apart from the necessary managerial skills,” he said.

Farm worker Anthony Maseko (53) said that Forbes’s mentorship was an eye-opener.

“There are many things I didn’t know as a worker, but they’re now becoming clearer. Forbes invites agricultural companies to come and speak to us about this business and that helps,” Maseko said.

“I’m looking forward to being a commercial farmer,” he added.

Forbes said that next year his workers will be taken through the process of borrowing money from the bank for their business.

“It’s a step-by-step process. I will recoup my R7 000 from their harvest and they will have to learn to sit with a bank manager and borrow money and arrange how to pay it back,” he said.

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