A group of 37 farmers in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, struggled for many years to make their dream of running a successful farm come true. The Nkangala District municipality came to their rescue by giving them a tank, a tractor, a bakkie and farming tools.
Never once did the Lefata farmers think of manufacturing charcoal; it started by pure chance.
They dreamed of turning their farm into a rose farm, a poultry farm or a vegetable farm. They eventually decided to start a crop plantation and approached the Department of Social Services for start-up funding.
One day while preparing to plant vegetables, a local businessman approached them. He advised them to use their trees to farm charcoal.
Tonnes of charcoal
It sounded like a good idea and they knew there was always a need for charcoal. Today, they sell tonnes of charcoal in Piet Retief and plans are in place to start selling throughout the country.
Their charcoal business, which started operating in May last year, taught them that charcoal manufacturing is a tiresome and complex process. Thirty of the members work in 12-hour shifts.
The trees are first cut to size and then loaded into a charcoal-manufacturing kiln (a large industrial oven). They are baked in the kiln for 24 hours. The kiln is then turned off and the wood is left to cool off for 18 to 24 hours.
During this time it turns into chunks of charcoal. The charcoal is packed into bags and transported to the market to be sold.
Crops and poultry
After the success of the charcoal business, the group decided to make their other dreams, namely starting a crop farm and a poultry farm, come true.
Their success helped them to get funding from the Department of Social Services. They are now preparing the land to plant cabbage, onions, carrots, beetroot and cauliflower.
More good news came when the group received a broiler for their poultry business from the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration.
The poultry farming started in September last year with almost 40 000 chicks.
After successfully getting three businesses off the ground, the group continues to reach for higher goals. One of them is to start a goat-farming business this year.
- Samona Murugan