Fresh produce co-op to supply Massmart

19 November 2013

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti and Gauteng Agriculture MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza officially launched the Akwande food garden project outside Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria, on Friday.

The co-operative food garden in Sokhulumi village will soon be supplying its fresh produce to retailer Massmart, the South African subsidiary of US retail giant Walmart, under an agreement between Massmart and non-governmental organisation TechnoServe South Africa.

The three-year supplier development agreement, signed last year, aims to link small farmers directly to Massmart stores.

“Akwande food garden project now has a market,” Mayathula-Khoza said at Friday’s launch. “They will be selling their fresh produce to Massmart. They are going to be one of the biggest producers of tomatoes in Gauteng, if not in the country.”

“As government, we are happy to see our people working together to fight poverty, unemployment and hunger through agricultural cooperatives,” she added.

Akwande project manager Peter Sekwele said that although they were already selling their fresh produce to Pick ‘n Pay, Spar and Shoprite, they were excited by the government’s efforts to help them access a new market.

“My colleagues and I will continue working very hard to produce more food, not only for our community, but for the country as a whole,” he said.

Since the food garden was started in 2010, Sekwele said residents no longer had to travel to Bronkhorstspruit to buy tomatoes and other vegetables.

“I can proudly say that we are feeding our community and we’ve created permanent jobs for 20 locals, of which 16 are women. Apart from tomatoes, we also grow cabbage and beetroot and other vegetables on our four hectares of land.”

The tomatoes are grown hydroponically, which recycles water and nutrients, and also optimises space. Hydroponic tomato plants grow faster than the soil-grown plants, and their yield is greater. Plants are grown in a controlled environment without weeds, insects or soil-borne diseases.

The Akwande food garden project is part of the government’s Comprehensive Rural Development Project, or Masibambisane project, aimed at creating jobs and providing support for smallholder farmers in poor rural communities.

“This is a typical Masibambisane project, because government and the private sector are providing support, while the people are in charge of their own co-operative,” Nkwinti said.

The project also caters for the children of the farmworkers by providing play equipment. Sekwele said: “We got the equipment so that when the mothers are busy working at the project, their kids can play.”