How do you measure the success of an empowerment programme, especially if you have shareholders that demand decent returns on their investment?

This was the question at the back of my mind when I recently joined a media group on a tour of KZN and the Eastern Cape to visit beneficiaries of the Grain SA/jobs fund/Bayer farmer development project initially called From Subsistence to Abundance, but now referred to as the ‘Jobs Fund Project’.

The answer to this question was answered on the first day of the tour by a beneficiary in the Dukuza area, close to Winterton. “Sir, my children don’t go to bed hungry anymore,” he said.

Members of the Mnceba study group near Mount Ayliff welcomes the Grain SA representatives to their maize plots. They are singing about their children no longer being hungry.

The project appoints mentors in deep rural areas where poverty is rife. Mentors organise participants into study groups, who plant their allotted maize fields to high tech Dekalb maize cultivars. Participating farmers get a total input package with fertiliser, lime and chemicals.

The proviso is that every participating farmer must come up with R3 500/ha which more or less covers half the input costs per hectare of maize, in a commercial environment. Though it may not seem like much, in reality it is a tall order, when one considers that the only income for most rural dwellers in these areas is the government grant.

The results, though, are impressive. Depending on the specific area, and the climatic conditions, yields of up to 9t/ha have been achieved. These fields previously yielded no more than 1t/ha.

On a rough rule of thumb an average family needs about 1,5 tons of maize a year to survive. Crop failure is a major problem in terms of food security for these families. The programme has had en enormously positive effect on the lives of the participating farmers who now have a minimum of more than double the amount of maize to harvest from their lands.

Needs that were previously unimaginable have now emerged such as how to mill these increased volumes of maize, how to store it, how to sell it, and amazingly, how to manage the extra inflow of funds.

This, says Jane McPherson, programme manager for farmer development at Grain SA, poses new challenges to her team of coordinators and mentors in the field. Involvement in the maize value chain and finding ingenious solutions to challenges associated with individual areas will increasingly become part of their work.

Which brings us to the mentors. Much respect is due to these motivated people who dedicate their time to improving the lives of others. They too are motivated by the words I heard in Dukuza: “We don’t go to bed hungry anymore.” – Izak Hofmeyr, AgriOrbit