Communal farmers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are set to benefit from supplying chicory to a multi-national coffee maker. The chicory supply project in Weenen outside Estcourt started in 2008. The Swiss multi-national company, Nestlé, started it to improve the production of local chicory to supply its coffee-making plant in nearby Estcourt.
The public-private partnership involves Nestlé, communal rural farmers from Weenen and the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government.
In line with the Government’s Land Redistribution Policy and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) programme, the chicory project centres on farms owned by black farmers whose ancestral land had been returned to them through the land restitution programme.
KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has praised the public-private partnership as the chicory project will go a long way in reviving economic activities and creating jobs in small rural towns such as Weenen and Estcourt.
Until 2003, Nestlé was getting its supply of chicory to its South African business from one supplier. However, price increases led to the coffee manufacturer importing 80 per cent of its chicory from India at a lower cost.
With India increasingly exporting its chicory to Europe, Nestlé realized that the price of imported chicory would increase too. Therefore, Nestlé South Africa started a project to improve the production of local chicory. The areas selected were close to Nestle’s Estcourt factory, which uses chicory in one of their coffee brands. This has ensured that the project supply an established market and create additional employment opportunities.
The first large-scale trials on the chicory project started in late 2008. During these trials, the focus was on finding willing farmers as well as understanding the nature of local diseases and pests, and recording water absorption, soil type and climate.
The first planting season was in 2009 with 13 communal farmers planting 19 hectares. Last year, about 440 tonnes of raw chicory produced 90 tonnes of roasted chicory at Nestle’s Estcourt Ricoffy coffee factory.
During this financial year, Nestlé expects to produce 505 tonnes of roasted chicory from 70 hectares, rising to 565 tonnes from 120 hectares in 2012 to 2013. A processing plant is already being built at Estcourt and local farmers together with Nestlé will share ownership of the plant that will be processing the raw chicory.
The KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development Department has committed itself to continue supporting the chicory project.