Siphiwe Mkhatshwa from Nkomazi in Mpumalanga is among the few people who were not only exposed to farming at a very young age, but also realised that one can accumulate wealth through land ownership and farming.
The young woman’s love for farming started when she and her siblings helped her father work his small piece of land, where he planted a variety of vegetables.
Fast forward to 1996 and Mkhatshwa’s father’s seven hectares had been extended to 10 hectares. The land was transferred to the family thanks to the democratic government’s Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) Programme.
Launched by the then Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, the programme provides grants to previously disadvantaged individuals to use land for agriculture.
With each family receiving 10 hectares of land and funding to help kick-start farming, the beneficiaries decided to form a cooperative called the Bambanani Association and this helped them extend the farm to 542 hectares. The land was used to grow sugarcane.
When Mkhatshwa’s father fell ill she was asked to take over the running of the farm. At the time, she was only 26-years-old and the only young woman in the association.
Thanks to South African consumer goods and milling company RCL Foods’ sponsorship, Mkhatshwa was able to undergo a three-year training course at the South African Sugar Association in Durban where she learnt how to run a successful farming business.
In 2007, the Bambanani Association lodged a land claim with the assistance of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. Government officially awarded 3 900 hectares of land to 1 300 beneficiaries with 930 households in 2015. This included water rights for 2 200 hectares.
Shortly after receiving land, the members approached Akwandze Agricultural Finance for a loan of R144 million to help spur work on the farm. After a land evaluation it was decided to separate the land into two, with 1 600 hectares being set aside for a sugar cane plantation while the rest was used to plant bananas.
The farm became a fully operational business, with movable assets including tractors, bakkies and office computers. “RCL Foods is our main client for sugarcane and this saves us a lot of delivery costs, as the company is only 2km away from the farm. We also have an agent, Libombo Marketing Consultants, which promotes our produce and sources clients for us,” she said.
While they count Woolworths and local businesses among their clients, the association has also established an international market in banana production, including Mozambique.
Mkhatshwa is thankful to the South African government for making it possible for the Bambanani Association's members to get their land. SAnews.gov.za