“It was Pick n Pay who first recognized our potential, and continue to provide us with a market, essential for to remain self-sustaining.”
The Bana Ba Kgwale’s neatly tended fields stretch as far as the eye can see, most of them with ant-like workers bent in harvest or hoeing. With us are Mashala Orphen and Maiketso Jacob, two of the nine members who make up Jericho’s Bana Ba Kgwale Project, and project mentor
Jimmie Painter, a great big slab of a man who brings two decades of experience to bear. There is nothing small about Bana Ba Kgwale – currently there are 110 hectares under development, 44 under pivot irrigation and 66 under drip irrigation, all tended by 160 full-time workers. ‘And we haven’t even planted a quarter of what’s available,’ says Jimmie.
Maiketso nods, ‘Currently we need a turn over of R300 000/month to cover costs. When the development is in full production the projected turn-over should be around R2 million, and we should be able to provide employment to 500 people.’
The impact a project of this magnitude has on the larger community’s development is tangible. ‘Since we started farming here, the town has seen its first butcher, its first ATM,’ Mashala shakes his head, ‘Jericho has changed’.
The farm was granted, along with water rights, to the nine members of the co-op in 2007 by Chief Mr Mamogale. At that time they developed 21.7ha and the co-op was supplied with two tractors, a shear plough, a 2-ton trailer and 3 hand-mist blowers by the Department of Agriculture.
Recognising the need to create food security and economic development in the area, Jimmie Painter was approached to help the farmers grow capacity, specifically to grow vegetables for Pick n Pay, but also to provide free vegetables to Jericho’s schools, old age home and hospice.
With the provisio that Jimmie would provide ongoing training, 70% practical and 30% theoretical, the Pick n Pay Foundation donated R2 112 315.00 the project, thereby officially kickstarting what would become one of the most successful social transformation projects in NorthWest. The nine members of the co-op received hands-on daily training for almost two years before they decided to register Bana Ba Kgwale as a company in 2009, and together with Jimmie Painter drafted a business plan to motivate expansion capital. This they have achieved in 2011 and 2012 (notably R15 753 166.68 from the Department of Rural
Development & Land Reform and R1 650 600.00 from the National Development Agency). With the bulk of the funds only becoming available in 2012 the team have worked tirelessly to bring infrastructure up to speed; preparing, planting and discarding. ‘Hail destroyed a lot in December. Some of the members wanted to try and save crops but sometimes the challenge is to let go, to plough in and start over. It’s nature.’
The results are tangible: a fine mist of rain from the pivots drenching large swatches of rich brown clods sprouting cabbage heads, while beyond lie fields of peppers, spinach, butternut and green beans. Mashala picks up a clod, ‘This is what I love,’ he says, ‘the feel and smell of the earth.’
But the social reach of the Bana Ba Kgwale success goes further than turning fallow land productive: aside from providing employment and training on the farm, their focus is also on resuscitating and growing small-scale commercial farmers in the district, with Jimmie providing mentorship. In addition there is the 3000sqm Bana Ba Kgwale packhouse – a huge feature against the flat landscape and currently just a few months short of completion. ‘Small farmers in this district don’t have the capacity to get to big retail markets – the packhouse will enable them to do so, as well as the larger operations in the district wanting to increase their margins. The idea is that the packhouse will become a self-sufficient business operation, running independently from the farm.’ Part of the business plan the members conceived together, the packhouse, once operational, will reduce the risks associated with farming.
‘It is an enormous opportunity and privilege to be have received the funding support that we have,’ Jimmie adds, ‘but we will never forget that it was Pick n Pay who were first to recognize the potential, and continue to provide us with a market, essential for any farm to remain self-sustaining.’