Cash out of cows

2015-11-30 17:00
Shareholder and chairperson of the Seven Stars Dairy Trust Lumka Maso
PHOTOs: Leon Sadiki

Shareholder and chairperson of the Seven Stars Dairy Trust Lumka Maso PHOTOs: Leon Sadiki

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If you’re a fan of Debonairs pizza or Steers burgers, chances are you’ve eaten cheese produced using milk from the cows at Seven Stars dairy.

Seven Stars is part of the Amadlelo Agri cooperative of black dairy farmers whose milk, butter and cheese are available for sale in large grocery chains, including Shoprite.

But in 2003, they were in a dire situation, struggling to make a profit and pay off their Land Bank loan.

After a partnership with a group of commercial farmers and the Industrial Development Cooperation (IDC), Amadlelo was saved and Seven Stars now employs 55 people in Keiskammahoek, a town 95km from East London.

Lumka Maso, shareholder and chairperson of the Seven Stars Dairy Trust, says they now supply milk to Coega dairy,
a dairy-processing plant in Port Elizabeth, which was also formed as a result of the partnership.

Maso says Seven Stars began with 35 farmers in and around Keiskammahoek, with 300 Friesland cattle and a R1.7 million loan from the Land Bank.

“But we were battling and the business was not moving forward due to a skills deficit and a lack of general infrastructure. Things started to change when we partnered with the IDC and Amadlelo in 2010,” she says.

Amadlelo brought in 1 800 cows. “We are now a thriving business free of loans and making a profit,” she says.

Most of the dairy’s 55 employees are women. It is undoubtedly the biggest business operation in tiny Keiskammahoek.

From 300 cows, Seven Stars now milks 2 000 cows twice a day. They have expanded to two dairies, which can milk a respective 50 and 60 cows at a time using a hi-tech rotary-parlour milking machine.

The dairies are managed by two young university graduates, Abubele Mtambeka, who graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and Mandla Sikhondo, from the Tshwane University of Technology.

Leonard Mavhungu, the senior manager at Seven Stars farm

Seven Stars’ manager, Leonard Mavhungu, says the establishment of Coega Dairy – which has unique, environmentally friendly technology and an ultra-high-temperature processing plant – gave them a lifeline because it became their regular customer.

Though the bulk of their milk goes to Coega Dairy, Seven Stars also sells to Keiskammahoek locals. Now they plan to grow their dairy and use the fallow 260 hectares of their 750ha property to bring in 1 000 more cows.

Mavhungu says they have come a long way from the days when they would sell milk for less than 50c a litre. Now they sell it for R1.30.

Maso says that, compared to when they started, the project has become a big success.

They have also managed to buy out one of the farmers in the cooperative, paying him R1.2 million for a farm that’s now been incorporated into Seven Stars.

“We want to buy more farms because we have realised, since having partners such as Amadlelo, IDC and Coega, we have achieved a lot,” she says.

Seven Stars has 55 employees, most of whom are women

One of Seven Stars’ employees, Nontombi Ncinane (55), had been unemployed for three years when she landed a job at the dairy, milking cows. She used to work at a Chinese-owned shoe factory in nearby Dimbaza, which shut down in 2004.

“When I came to work here, I knew nothing about milking cows, but today I think I am an expert in not only that, but I also know a lot about what is being done here through training and skills development. I love my job,” she says.“We used to live in a shack. I have since built a decent house for my family.

“My husband – who works as a security guard at public works – and I are able to provide for our kids and meet their needs, such as buying them uniforms, clothes and sending them to school.

“I am grateful for the job I have here.”

Dairy manager Mtambeka (30) studied agricultural management and joined the dairy for his internship in 2009. He was employed as the manager the following year.

This is the single father’s first permanent job.

“It’s something I wanted to do since I was young. You get to learn skills you need as a farmer. It is quite an experience. The thing I love most about my job is definitely milking cows,” he says.

. This series is reported by City Press and sponsored by the IDC

Read more on:    idc

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