Are RED Hubs the answer to sustainable rural development?

Rural Eastern Cape could undergo economic regeneration as the province invests in new agriculture initiatives.

President Zuma with Premier Masuelle and MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane at the mealie fields. (Image: Elmond Jiyane,GCIS)

Sulaiman Philip

Urbanisation seems inevitable in South Africa as people are drawn to opportunities in cities. The country is the most urbanised in southern Africa, with 64.8% of its 50 million people now living in urban areas.

A lack of opportunities in rural areas has sped up the migration to large towns and cities. However, an initiative in the Eastern Cape is hoping to put an end to fertile agricultural land lying fallow and create sustainable rural economies.

President Jacob Zuma pointed out at the opening of the newest Rural Enterprise Development Hub (RED Hub) project in late March 2017: “We want all our rural areas to have economic activities so that our people can have jobs and also be able to make a living from the land and from small businesses in rural areas.”

President Zuma with Premier Masuelle and MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane interacting with workers at the milling plant. (image: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS)

The new R53-million maize mill outside the village of Dyifani is the focal point of development in what is the Mbizana RED Hub. The plant will process maize grown by local co-operatives for sale to the community or to be shipped to the shelves of national retail chains.

It addresses rural poverty by drawing staff from the local villages and providing an income to more than a thousand co-op members. As the president pointed out, it is impractical for everyone to go to the cities to earn a living. “Our people must make a living from the land, and must also not go hungry when they can produce food from the land.”

What are RED Hubs

The Dyifani project is one of four RED Hub projects in the Eastern Cape designed to regenerate neglected rural economies. The others — located in Chris Hani, OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo municipalities — were funded by the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA).

The ECRDA has invested R190-million to build infrastructure in sorghum and maize growing regions in the province. Provincial investment in Emalahleni, Ncora, Mqanduli and Bizana covers the construction of silos, a milling plant, weigh bridge and farming equipment. By linking production to processing facilities and on to markets, the province expects that dormant assets, namely land, in rural communities will be turned into drivers of economic activity.

Investment aims are to develop rural villages as the centre of mega farm operations by linking production, processing and marketing elements. Community produced crops are processed and traded through RED Hubs with income re-invested into the communities.

Ongoing development

More important than the R25-million budgeted to help with development in the four RED Hubs, the province has harnessed the experience of Xolani Ndzaba, owner of Lethabo Milling. With his assistance the Bizana Mill, in operation for less than a month, has already won contracts to supply chains such as Boxer Supermarkets and Massmart, owners of the Makro and Game supermarket chains.

Vusi Ngesi, general manager of the Bizana Mill, believes it has already changed the community for the better. “It has changed the lives of people because there are job opportunities and milling is here and they can get maize meal from our own area. What’s also very important is that people are being skilled in taking soil samples, analysing soil and determining the type of fertiliser to use to get a certain yield.”

The Mbizana mill opening drew the attention of a typically rural audience. (Image: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS)

The RED Hub model has proven to be one of the more successful poverty alleviation programmes in the Eastern Cape. Across the four projects, 30,000 hectares of land that would otherwise be lying fallow is now productive agricultural land producing maize and sorghum and benefitting communities through newly created opportunities.

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