Afgri’s recently-renamed Lemang Agricultural Services, has been created specifically to train, develop and mentor new era farmers, and to focus on the further development of commercial black farmers in South Africa. This would apply especially to larger farmers ready to take the final steps towards becoming full-scale commercial farmers. The service includes the offer of financial assistance, which helps the sustainability of farming enterprises.
“With food security becoming an increasing concern for South Africa and the rest of the continent, it’s important that agribusinesses, such as Afgri, get behind our farmers, particularly black farmers wanting to take the next step into full commercialisation. And with agriculture being the key driver of food security, Afgri is fully supportive of bringing a new generation of successful farmers into production to ensure the sector continues to thrive,” said Marion Shikwinya, who heads up Lemang Agricultural Services.
“We are very excited about the opportunities that agriculture offers, but there is a need to recognise the constraints that many new era farmers face. The first of these is lack of access to affordable credit. Many cannot access credit to finance their operations, including the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment and other new technologies required to increase production, and produce high-quality crops or livestock.”
Shikwinya added that Afgri, a leading agricultural services company with core competencies to enhance, support and guide the growth of agricultural enterprises, has a wide range of financial services that they are looking at adapting to support new era farmers.
Lemang itself has an enviable track record of success in assisting new era farmers, having trained and supported over 650 farmers in the past four years (in its previous capacity as Harvest Time Investments). This has led to more than 18 400ha being planted, 660 permanent jobs created, and crop harvests of 49 873 tons yielded. The average farm income has tripled in cases where there has been farmer supportr from Lemang.
Bankies Malan, operations manager, said the team could bring this track record to bear on assisting farmers overcome another stumbling block – lack of access to information and training.
“Training and access to the right information is vital if farmers are to succeed. Agribusinesses such as ours have huge role to play in ensuring our farmers are trained in the latest farming techniques, mentored and equipped with the relevant business skills. Knowing how to run a business is an integral part of growing a successful farming enterprise,” Malan said.
While many systems put in place to help black farmers have failed due to a lack of funding, or skills, farmers should think innovatively, and attempt problem solving on their own, rather than simply waiting for help, said Malan.
One workable solution to apply is for smaller new era farmers in rural areas to form study groups. In these groups they could learn from experts, people they invite to attend the sessions, and from one another, a major source of knowledge-sharing, at the same time.
“It takes real entrepreneurial spirit to set up this kind of initiative, but the benefits are huge, with farmers being able to tap into relevant knowledge when they need it. This will inspire a spirit of independence and drive sustainable success,” Malan added.
Entrepreneurial drive and a true passion for farming are at the top of the list of qualifying criteria for the Lemang New Era Farmer development programme.
Communication has a role to play in connecting farmers with one another and with support systems, Malan said. “Modern mobile technology makes it so much easier to get farmers around the table to learn from one another and from others. In fact, it’s essential that we all capitalise on this technology, and explore better ways of connecting as a farming community.”
Malan said the benefits of establishing connected farmer ecosystems through study groups, and from these study groups to other groups in the country, using mobile technology could give rise to mega farming communities across South Africa.
“Imagine the power this will give new era farmers. With access to the right information when they need it, and access to training, mentoring and funding through companies like ours, they could be easily be fully integrated into the agricultural value chain.”
In the meantime, Shikwinya and the team at Lemang Agricultural Services are hard at work, spreading the word about their offerings and hoping to reach as many new era farmers as possible. – Afgri