FIVE years after it was established, the Sundays River Farming Trust has bought a big piece of land in Addo with hopes to develop it into a leading exporter of citrus fruit in the region.
The trust – a black economic empowerment initiative by four farm workers from the valley – is aimed at boosting transformation in the sector. The 117ha of land was bought for R11-million.
Buyiswa Ndyenga, Jafta April, Thando Mto and Edward Noketshe have been successfully managing the Willow Tree, Glengrove, Siyathemba and Eendacht farms respectively on 310ha of government- owned land for the past five years.
Having worked on the valley’s citrus farms for an average 20 years each, the farmers gained experience and, through adult basic education and training initiatives, learnt farm management systems.
In 2007, the Sundays River Citrus Company (SRCC) – a private firm which packs, exports and distributes 10% of the country’s total citrus fruit – started a black economic empowerment initiative to help develop black-owned farms.
The initiative gave the four an opportunity to manage the farms on 800ha of government-owned land shared with four other farms run by black farmers, together producing about 13% of SRCC’s current overall production.
With the managerial support and mentorship of the company, the farmers operated on the land they leased at R12750 a month.
With an annual turnover of about R3.5-million, the farmers set up the Sundays River Farming Trust in 2007 and ploughed their earnings into buying the land.
Money saved up from their production – which equals about one million export cartons of SRCC’s total produce – amounted to R7-million, with the remaining R4-million loaned from the company.
Ndyenga, the spokeswoman for the group, said their hard work and determination was what helped them to succeed.
"We have been hungry for this for a long time and when the opportunity presented itself, we grabbed it with both hands.
"The SRCC has helped us a lot in learning how to properly manage farms and we have been doing so successfully for the past five years. Before you know it, we will be the biggest, most successful black- owned farm in the country.”
But they said it could be a while before their first produce hits the market.
"Due to the fact that [orange and lemon] trees are a bit hard to come by, we will only get them in about two years and will have to wait a further five years before production,” Ndyenga said.
After unsuccessfully applying for a government grant since 2010, the farmers opted to buy land, rather than the leasing option.
"We lease the current farmland on a five-year contract and we have to apply for renewal, which we are awaiting a response on at the moment.”
Willow Tree, Siyathemba, Eendracht and Glengrove farms employ a total of 43 permanent staff and 305 casual workers.
"Farm work is hard work so we need incentives to ensure the staff are happy and keep coming to work. We give monthly performance bonuses as well as a thirteenth cheque,” Ndyenga said.
"We also give a little extra to workers who report for duty every day, so they get extra cash with their fortnightly wages. That was decided upon after we saw that after payday some would miss days of work and that slows down production.”
While they have not decided on a name for the new farm, the farmers said they were likely to name it Siyaphambili (We are moving forward).
SRCC managing director Ken Nieuwenhuizen said they were excited about the farmers’ land purchase as it showed their success.
"It has been rather difficult getting government funding for farms after some failures in the past, so we will be giving the farmers all the assistance they need to ensure they carry on the good work they are currently doing at their new farm,” he said.