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Community shareholding scheme turns life around for Amajingqi village



Vanxuse Nkololwane

Had it not been for the Amajingqi Macadamia Farming (AMF) project. 57-year-old Vanxuse Nkololwane would still be living in poverty.

AMF is a community-based macadamia farming project initiated in 2013 through the facilitation of Chief Ngwenyathi Dunalisile.

The chief was approached by the macadamia industry players involved at Ncera Macadamia, who at the time were exploring possibilities of expanding their initiative into the Wild Coast.

Nkololwane said he had lost his job in Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape.

“Life was really bad when I lost my job as I could not provide for my family.

“Being a man and not[being] able to provide also creates fights in the home as everyone is looking at you to make a plan,” he said.

The Amajingqi community was invited to the launch of the Ncera Macadamia project for sightseeing.

This visit brought to reality how certain aspects of the Ama- jingqi’s long-term rural industrialisation could be realised.

AMF ownership is based on a 51% community shareholding and 49% private sector.

Of the 146 employees at the AMF, 60 are between 18 and 35 years, 45 between 36 and 45 years, 31 from 46 and 55 years and 10 between 56 and 65 years. The AMF project got started in July 2015, with Nkololwane as one of its first employees after 16 years of unemployment.

Nkololwane is now a fencing manager and says his life has changed for the better.

“My son is now doing law at the University of Johannesburg,” he said.

Nkolotwane has also taken to keeping livestock, including 14 pigs and 48 goats, which he seils or slaughters for his family.

“This project has changed the lives of a number of people.

“People own cars and livestock and when we get paid we fill the town to ensure we buy wonderful things for our families,” he said.

An overview of the AMF project states: “Community leaders have been empowered on governance and leadership and the community has an organised and well regulated community trust with a duly registered trust deed which specifies how the distribution of benefits will be handled.”

The document states that significant number of you people who had left to find employment elsewhere are turning home to find work on the plantations.

You have to be a really hard nut to crack yourself, if you want to make it as a macadamia nut farmer, says Cowan Skelem, one of the leading people behind Ncera Macadamia Farming (NMF), near East London. For, the strongest determination, is what it takes to make it in this industry.

Although macadamia nuts are said to be hard to beat when it comes to the most lucrative crop per land area used in South Africa, it takes several years for farmers of this crop to finally see a return on their investment.

“It takes perseverance and determination because one waits more than seven years before a tree can even produce nuts,” says Skelem.

He began his role at the farm as a general worker pushing a wheelbarrow. But today, Skelem is a skilled worker who is exposed to the overall running of the business, from administration to logistics and overall supervision of the business.

Before working at the farm, he was unemployed after he lost his job in the local town and was battling to provide for his four-member family but working at the farm has allowed Skelem to buy food and school uniforms for his children and send them to proper schools.

“I am happy and blessed to be working here at the farm. I am enjoying my work and it helps me to put food on the table and provide for my kids,” he says.

The Ncera Macadamia Farming, which is 51% community-owned, is one of many success stories that show land reform can result in greater inclusion, economic growth and job creation.

Government has identified access to land, through land restitution and other schemes, as one of the ways to grow the economy, ensure food security and increase agricultural production. To date, over 4 850 100 hectares have been acquired through the land redistribution programme.

Since 2009, over 1 743 farms have benefited from the Recapitalisation and Development Programme.

However, land reform has not been without challenges, as some communities still lack the necessary and appropriate support, as well as access to finance that can help them grow to commercial farming status.

The Eastern Cape is one of the provinces with very large under-utilised tracts of land still under communal tenure that rests unused. But the community of Ncera is determined to change this, and through partnerships and support from the government, the 40 000-strong community is on its way to become top producers of Macadamia nuts in the country.

The R100 million project thrives on partnerships between the East Cape Macadamia (Pty) Ltd (ECM), the community under the Vulindlela Investment Trust as well as government.

The model is based on an 80 year-term land lease agreement, which was signed between the community and the ECM.  The latter would oversee production, marketing, processing and management and facilitate access to markets while create employment, transferring skills and generating income for the community whose land they use.

The most defining feature of this partnership is that the community has a final say on all procurement opportunities, skills transfer and jobs created. This guarantees the community the bulk of all opportunities brought about by the project.

According to the Southern African Macadamia Growers’ Association, new macadamia tree plantings have increased the number of trees in South Africa from about one million in 1996 to more than eight million in 2016, covering a total area of approximately 28 000 hectares.

It is estimated that at least 7 150 permanent job opportunities have been created on macadamia farms and another 600 permanent jobs in cracking facilities. In peak season, the industry presently provides employment for an additional 8 150 workers. A total of 12 500 full-time equivalent workers are estimated to be employed by the macadamia industry in South Africa.

Community members in Ncera have not only found jobs through the macadamia nuts they are farming, but are also beneficiaries of the economic spinoffs produced by this lucrative plant.

Their story is a further indication of the impact that access to land can have on economic growth and job creation. The farm currently employs 157 permanent community members as well as seasonal workers during the harvesting period.

“Our story is very important to the community especially when it comes to the skills that this project has exposed us to.  I started off as a general worker pushing a wheelbarrow but now I am a skilled worker who is exposed in the overall running of the business from the administration, logistics and now I’m the supervisor.”

He explains that 90% of the nuts produced in the Eastern Cape farm are exported to big markets such as the United States, Russia and China.

“I am very proud because it means generations to come, even my own grand-children will benefit from the life-long dollar-based income-generated by the trusts with the sale of the nuts.”

Founding chairman of the NMF board Joe Njongolo says that the project’s business strategy is prolonged and focuses on education and skills development which are aimed at turning Ncera into a self-reliant and sustainable rural community.

“For the first time, macadamia nuts are being grown by rural communities who own the full value chain, including the nursery and factories.

“This sends a statement to the whole industry that rural communities are capable, and with land they are not just coming in to own one component of the industry as labours – but they are able to thrive in the industry as a whole.”

Njogolo sees the farm as an alternative to the mining sector as the Eastern Cape has been known to be the biggest supplier of labour to the mines.

The project has also boosted local contractors in the areas of transport and logistics, among others as most of the work in these areas is given to local companies.

Consequently, about R200 000 per annum is set aside for services provided by contractors operating within the Ncera community.

The project has made more than R11, 6 million since its launch in 2006 and has grown to also include a top-class nursery.

The nursery, which received a five-star rating from the SA Macadamia Growers’ Association, has led to expansion of the Ncera Macadamia Farming and gave birth to the Amajingqi Macadamia Farming located in Amajingqi near Willowvale on the Wild Coast.

Launched in 2015, the project has already seen the production of 200 hectares of trees and plans to expand.

Njogolo says the long-term intention of the community is to branch out of the Eastern Cape and develop the whole macadamia value chain and create more sustainable economic opportunities in provinces such as Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

“We see NMF as a template for empowerment and economic development for rural communities which can be duplicated across the country and to other farming sectors. We challenge the government to seriously look unto ventures of this nature,” he says.

While the pace of land reform and restitution has been the subject of criticism, government is adamant that it is addressing the challenges emerging farmers experience as a matter of urgency.

Government support is also provided through various state programmes such as Letsema, the Recapitalisation and Development Programme, and through funding agency Mafisa.

Support involves training, access to credit, on and off farm infrastructure, access to markets, subsidising agricultural insurance and the transfer of scientific research and knowledge.  –SAnews.gov.za

THE Western Cape has the winelands, KwaZulu-Natal has sugarcane and now the Eastern Cape wants to be known for the massive production of macadamia nuts.

With 4200 hectares of land targeted for macadamia production in the coastal belt between East London and Bizana and a processing plant planned for the East London industrial development zone, the little white delicacy is already making inroads in the lives of the province’s rural community.

Ncera Macadamia Farm (NMF) director and Kula Investments chief executive Mkululi Pakade said the farm outside East London employed 167 people and was a true example of how local communities “can own the full value chain” of macadamia nuts.

The Ncera project was started in 2005 on land that is being leased for 80 years from chieftainess Jongilanga. The community owns 51% of operating company NMF and shares in profits through the Vulindlela Investment Trust.

NMF operations manager Sithembele Dyasi, who worked himself up in the company from a general worker, told delegates at the Macadamia Summit in East London that the Ncera harvest over the past two years had exceeded expectations.

“We have a four-star nursery, which will soon be a five-star nursery, and in our second year of production we harvested 50ha of high- quality macadamia nuts. We want to double the production next year,” Dyasi said.

The macadamia industry had the capacity to generate R313-million in land rental, salaries and trust profits per year once the total 4200ha earmarked for macadamia nut production in the Eastern Cape was fully operational, NMF managing director Wayne Simpson said.

Simpson said there was an under- supply of macadamia nuts in the world and their production would not only transform idle land into high-value macadamia orchards, it would also transform the lives of rural communities.

The million trees planned to be planted over the next 20 years would have the capacity to employ at least 4000 workers, he said.

Not only did the community which owned the land to be developed have the first right of refusal for all jobs created through the macadamia production on their land, they would also benefit from a lifelong dollar-based income-generator as members of various community trusts, Simpson said.

Indibano – an NGO set up to empower chiefs by trading with government and industry – Kula Investment Group, TGK Group and Green Farms Nut Company are the private investors involved in the NMF.

Cindy Preller, July 25, 2014



Local community is sharing in benefits of macadamia project

RESIDENTS of Ncera village near Kidds Beach used the launch of the Ncera Macadamia Farm (NMF) on Thursday to honour managing director Wayne Simpson, whom they said is the brains behind the project.

Located outside East London, the community around the area stands to benefit from the farming project, which will see macadamia nuts being exported to various markets around the world.

Key players in the project include the TGK farming group, department of rural development and agrarian reform, Vulindlela Investment Trust (VIT) and Kula Development & Business Solutions, with each playing a different role.

At the official launch, Simpson was presented with traditional garments and dressed up in them.

The gesture is representative of Simpson becoming a member of the community and shows the community’s appreciation for his work.

The son of Trevor Simpson, TGK farming group CEO Simpson said they were farming around 100 hectares of land and hoped to expand in the future.

“This project has been good for the community of Ncera, and having worked with them from the beginning, I have to say I am very proud of the progress and development,” he said.

Simpson said to date, there were 90 permanent and 14 seasonal employees.

“We hope that when we acquire more land in the future, we can increase the number of employees to 300 or 400,” he said.

When the Saturday Dispatch arrived at the farm on Thursday, the first harvest was on display around a large marquee tent.

Zipo-Zenkosi Ncokazi, May 25, 2013

Nut farmer’s cracking idea