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Bolobedu cooperative has a winning recipe

Written by *Odas Ngobeni
Community members from Bolobedu, Limpopo are using their newly acquired baking skills to provide for their families.

The group of 12, made up of mostly women, started a community bakery and from the money earned, can now afford the basic necessities for their families.

The project, better known as the Itsoseng Community Bakery, is now registered as a cooperative and operates under the name Relela Bakery Primary Cooperative Limited.

The bakery supplies bread to thousands of com- munity members, spaza shops, day care centres and drop-in centres.

Assistant project coordinator Rosinah Malatjie said the aim of the project was to fight poverty and create job opportunities for community members.

Malatjie said it had been a “long and winding journey” so far.

“We started in November 1996. At the time we were making mango atchar. The challenge was that mangoes are seasonal so we found ourselves at home, idle during the off-season.”

The group then realised that they could not sit about waiting for mangoes.

“We tried to make body lotions but there was little progress there. Then we started a garden project, planting cabbages, beans, tomatoes and spinach. Through our determination, we managed to open a bank account,” she explained.

A few months later group sat down and agreed that it was time to expand – to go big or go home. “In 1997 we started baking bread using a mud oven. Our breakthrough came when the Department of Social Development provided funding of R50 000. This marked the beginning of much improved conditions for us.”

Malatjie said they used the R50 000 for fencing. The department gave them an additional R150 000, which was used to buy a caravan and baking ovens.

In 2001 the group signed a 30-month contract to supply bread to the Gapane Hospital and Duiwelskoof Hospital.

Malatjie added that although they did not see much profit because they were using rented vehicles for delivery, the contract was worth it.

“We were lucky to receive more funding from the department in 2006, which we used to buy extra double-deck ovens and trolleys. We even bought a second-hand bakkie that we are currently using for delivery,” she said.

The Limpopo Business Support Agency (LIBSA), a government institution that provides business development support services to entrepreneurs, offered the group training in business, financial and marketing management, while the Department of Labour provided the baking training.

In 2012, LIBSA trained them in customer care, bookkeeping and pricing. The department also gave them R250 000, which was used for a ceiling and to buy a second delivery van, 200 crates, bread mould and cake mixer.

Malatjie, a mother of five, added that the co- operative planned to expand their supply base. “We are not really making much of a profit now but we are able to provide food for our families and participate in other activities such as stokvels,” she said.

Local ward councillor Rebecca Makhudu said the project was making a huge difference in the community.

“Not only are we guaranteed fresh bread every morning but we also know that these people are committed to fighting poverty and unemployment. Our people are able to buy on account. This is a shining example to our people that if we work together government will meet us halfway,” she added.

* Odas Ngobeni works for GCIS in Limpopo.

For more information on LIBSA contact the agency on 015 287 3000.