Great strides for local project

2015-08-12 06:00
EDWIN MABOTSA, the project manager at Tshwaraganang, inside the greenhouse.

Photos: 
Supplied

EDWIN MABOTSA, the project manager at Tshwaraganang, inside the greenhouse. Photos: Supplied

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THE Tshwaraganang

Hydroponics Cooperative, located in Windsorton, operates a hydroponic production system in a multi-span greenhouse to produce various products and, in particular, English cucumbers.

The cucumbers are wrapped, packed and labelled on site before they are delivered to Shoprite Checkers (Freshmark) in Bloemfontein. This relationship spans the last five years.

It is a way of Shoprite Checkers in responding to the call by government to assist small-scale farmers to meet standard requirements of retailers and going beyond to provide sustainable business once the standards are met.

“The critical thing with the suppliers we use is that they need to produce quality products. Tshwaraganang has been able to provide us with this standard. The use of the hydroponic farming system makes for firm, correctly sized and coloured produce,” says Nols Ferreira, distribution centre manager of Freshmark – Free State, Northern Cape and Lesotho.

The cooperative has over the years become a viable and sustainable enterprise that generates income and creates employment within the Kutlwano community of Windsorton. It employs 15 local beneficiaries with a monthly salary and other part-time labourers are used for the maintenance of open-air vegetable gardens and meeting peak season demand.

The cooperative’s long-term vision is to not only expand its operations, but also to provide pension or provident funds to its members.

Tshwaraganang demonstrates good administration systems, procedures and record keeping and is governed by a management structure.

The cooperative is jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the National Development Agency (NDA).

The Department of Agriculture set up the hydroponics infrastructure and NDA provided the operational capital to commence production in 2008.

Recently the cooperative acquired a warehouse on the premises, aluminet screen, delivery cooler truck, ablutions and changing room facilities (required for EU export status), as well as an industrial coal stove to minimise exorbitant electricity costs associated with hydroponic incubation.

“Our association with Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP) has been most instrumental for us because they provided mentoring and training in greenhouse operations and assisted us to find a primary market in Freshmark.

“Products are delivered weekly and this has allowed us to remain sustainable and continue to grow. Diversity is required in farming and we would like to bring in other black small-scale farmers around Windsorton that can also make a living off the land,” says Edwin Mabotsa, the project manager at Tshwaraganang.

The cooperative also produces green peppers on a large scale that are sold locally in Kimberley to Dial-a-Vege, Vege Online, Ok Grocery and Food Lover’s Market. Those that do not meet the market requirements, but which are edible, are donated to the community.

“The NDA is an agency of the Department of Social Development tasked with the mandate to contribute towards the eradication of poverty and its causes. We provide grant funding for the implementation of integrated and sustainable community-driven programmes.

“We are proud of the association with the Tshwaraganang Hydroponics Cooperative – they have demonstrated commitment in their operations. Coupled with that, they have contributed to our mandate of eradicating poverty through the creation of sustainable jobs and the upliftment of the Windsorton and other communities. We desire that all our other funded projects reach milestones such as those achieved by this project,” says Lesedi Piki, provincial manager at the NDA in the Northern Cape.

Tshwaraganang has won numerous awards including Community Builder of the Year in 2012, Good Agricultural Practice issued by NSF Africa and they hold a Freshmark Achievement Certificate for silver status for their premises.

“It has taken us 14 years to get to this point. It was never easy, and winter is particularly difficult on our business. We are happy to have formed the partnerships we have with our funders and clients. We own the land and have made personal contributions whilst our municipality and the Department of Water Affairs have been helpful in ensuring that we have sufficient water supply. The lessons have been invaluable and we have had to revise our operations to cut costs,” added Mabotsa.

The cooperative operates an electronic system that provides and updates daily production information – temperature readings, number of cucumbers harvested and tracking of staff on duty.

The use of an aluminet screen is also effective in the retention of heat at night in the structures. This means less diesel is utilised. The cooperative is in the process of exploring solar heating options to further cut costs.

“We have forged good relations with Tshwaraganang over the last five years. Freshmark continues to make a concerted effort to conduct business with small and medium scale suppliers,” said Pieter van Zyl, general manager of procurement at Freshmark.

The Portfolio Committee of Social Development visited the Tshwaraganang Hydroponic Cooperative during their oversight visit to the Northern Cape to review programmes being implemented by the Department of Social Development and its agencies, NDA and SASSA

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