Community’s future in berry farming

 

Ray Maota

The Amajuba Berries Project will be
the largest berry project in the southern
hemisphere when it is completed by the
end of 2012.
(Image: Wikipedia)

Moemise Motsepe, NEF’s marketing and
communications manager, said that the
NEF tries to redress the inequalities
brought on by apartheid, which made
black economic participation oblique.
(Image: Ray Maota)

MEDIA CONTACTS
• Goodman Skhosana
Amajuba Berries: HR Manager
+27 17 735 5410

The people of Charlestown in KwaZulu-Natal are reaping the sweet benefits of land restitution.

The once-dispossessed community now have their ancestral land back – 45 years after being forcibly removed by the apartheid government.

They are using their land to grow raspberries and strawberries, and plan to create the largest farm of its kind in the southern hemisphere within the next five years.

The Amajuba Berries Project started in 2007, after the land was returned to the community in 2003 under the Restitution of Land Rights Act.

The community of over 1 000 all stand to gain from the berry farm, which currently sees 59 local people permanently employed in the project, with a further 300 finding jobs seasonally as pickers and packers.

Amajuba is owned by the Charlestown Community Trust and is supported financially to the tune of almost R40-million (US$5-million) by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF).

Berry farming was a clear choice for Amajuba because, according to Goodman Skhosana, the project’s human resource manager, “there are very few berry producers in South Africa, and the market price of berries is higher than other fruits”.

Charlestown also turned out to be the ideal location. “A climatic crop mapping study showed berries were best suited to the climate.”

Raspberries are ripe for picking between November and June and the strawberry season runs from October to May. The current crops are looking good, says Skhosana.

Reaping the benefits of ancestral land

The project is an example of how successful land restitution can be.

In 1967 the community was forcibly removed under the Group Areas Act of 1950, which separated racial groupings from living together. The families were moved to the mountainous area of Madadeni in KwaZulu-Natal.

Like most communities in those circumstances, the people battled extreme poverty, joblessness and social dislocation.

In 2003 the Charlestown Community Trust acquired Farm Belfast to resettle those families and a big decision was taken – to set up a commercial farming operation to improve the livelihood of those who moved back to the land.

The jobs created from this venture, says Skhosana, are mainly for women.

Farm Belfast covers an area of 60 hectares and is expected to produce 12 tons of berries per hectare annually at optimum.

During the 2008/2009 season – its first – Amajuba produced 25 000 tons.

Phase 1 of the farm is complete, with 20 ha of cultivated land. The second, and final, phase is expected to be finished by the end of 2012.

Amajuba is just one of the farming projects run by the trust, which has 1 100 beneficiaries, represented by an 11-member board of trustees.

“The trust owns 12 farms in Charlestown totalling 8 054 ha, and has other projects including cattle breeding, a commercial timber project and a dairy project, although the berry project is the cream of the crop,” Skhosana says.

Project ownership

Holdings in Amajuba Berries are shared between the NEF (51%), the IDC (39%) and investor Frans Fourie’s Prosperity Trust (10%).

The NEF sees its investment as vital to redressing economic inequalities.

Moemise Motsepe, NEF’s marketing and communications manager, said: “South Africa was for many years characterised by apartheid which made black economic participation oblique.

“The role that the NEF plays is to try to redress those inequalities by funding projects like Amajuba Berries.”

Another investor is Frans Fourie, a Free State raspberry farmer, who has invested R3.8-million ($458 000) worth of expertise, equipment and plant in Amajuba. He’s also brought his own experience and guidance to the project.

However, the community trust will be repaying the debts and once this is done will own 90% of the project.

Skhosana says: “After the investment money has been paid back with interest, only then will the people of Charlestown benefit financially from the project.”

In the meantime the community are learning a multitude of skills from management techniques to hands-on farming.