The members of an agricultural cooperative are working towards becoming large-scale, commercial farmers – thanks to the power of community unity and the support of government.
By working together, the Middelpos community in Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape has turned an empty plot of land into a vibrant, mixed agricultural farm.
The people of Middelpos realised how much more they could achieve as a community than they could as individuals and formed the Thembelihle small-scale farmer cooperative. Today, the group is collectively working the 112-hectare farm it leases from the municipality to combat hunger, poverty and unemployment.
According to Gerrit de Bruyn (58), chairperson of the cooperative, members of the community started to use the vacant land to grow food in the then informal settlement in 2011. With more and more people starting food gardens on the land, the community decided to work together to form a cooperative.
The cooperative approached the Saldanha Bay Municipality and signed a formal five-year lease agreement to use the land for farming in 2017. In 2019, while the 2017 contract was still in existence, they renewed the contract after intervention by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. This year, they signed a seven-year lease agreement that will come to an end in 2026.
De Bruyn says they divided the farm into two and four hectares to be used for crop and livestock farming. Spinach, cabbage, onions, potatoes and tomatoes are among the produce grown, while on the livestock side, pigs, Boer goats and cows are raised. The farm also has broilers and laying hens that produce thousands of eggs daily.
The cooperative has a diverse membership of men and women and young and older people.
De Bruyn says they supply their produce to local supermarkets and sell livestock at auctions. “It is amazing how this place has been transformed from what it was before. This was done through our collective efforts; we all demonstrated a passion for farming. We made sacrifices, we turned our homes into offices and used an internet cafe to do administrative work. We supply established supermarkets because of the quality and commitment we show in our work,” he says.
The farm has created jobs for some locals who work as herdsmen and farm assistants.
De Bruyn believes that the land is too small for the number of people who belong to the cooperative and says they are exploring other options to get access to underutilised land.
Recently, the cooperative received farming equipment worth over R6 million from the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza. Goods handed over included seeds, containers for storage, mobile offices, a bakkie, a cattle trailer and a kraal, while fencing support will also be given.
In explaining the challenges the cooperative faced before the handover, he said that their private homes had to be used for administration and storage. “We sold cattle through auction and transportation was a serious challenge. The timing is critical in agriculture to ensure you deliver your product on time. So all these supplements [donations] will come in handy going forward.”
Another farmer, Ntuthuko Mngoma, who is the secretary of the cooperative, says the Minister’s visit gave the community hope and motivation.
He says he is happy that their farm has created employment and believes that proper fencing will go a long way in making it more successful because their cattle will be better protected.
De Bruyn says the donation from the department will help increase the farm’s production capacity, which – in turn – will help them in their quest to become commercial farmers.