Harry Gwala Agri (Pty) Ltd is a non-profit organisation founded by commercial farmers in Harry Gwala District Municipality (Ixopo, Underberg, Kokstad) in an attempt to formalise, and drive the sharing of skills, the imparting of experience and, at times, providing financial support to neighbouring smaller-scale farmers.
Now, 18 months after inception, the initiative supports several projects in the district which tackle food security, provide mentorship, drive internship programmes and source sponsorship for aspiring farmers.
Acting as a facilitator to provide aspiring, local farmers with skills development and to support the unique demands of existing projects in the district, Harry Gwala Agri helps share commercial farmers’ knowledge, networks, experiences and access to finances to help alleviate the crippling poverty in the district.
“As commercial farmers, we can no longer live as islands of prosperity amid a sea of poverty. We can no longer farm alongside others who are unable to do the same because of past injustices. We need to take action,” says founder chairman of the organisation, John Bredin.
The “end” goal is, through the transfer of skills, for the small scale farmers to become self-sufficient and thrive, explains Project Manager Dylan Weyer.
“For many years in the district, local farmers have been involved in projects assisting their small-scale neighbours, but these were often unsustainable, as commercial farmers are very busy and the demand from so many small-scale farmers very high; Harry Gwala Agri is a formalisation of all of these projects under one umbrella, spreading the resources of knowledge, information and expertise to include more commercial farmers and invested sponsors who all want to be a part of the solution,” says Weyer.
The focus is to initiate and support household-level food security projects, to strengthen agricultural-related education by establishing and assisting student internship programmes, and to partner with commercial farmers, including beneficiaries of the land reform process, through the establishment of mentorship relationships and building support from the business sector.
Current projects supported by the organisation include an internship in-service training programme for agricultural students at Esayidi College in Umzimkulu, placed by Harry Gwala Agri on local farms in the surrounding district with a monthly stipend sourced from sponsors.
Another project, which began as a Highflats farmer assisting an employee to grow vegetables on her garden plot in Mazabekweni, a neighbouring community, has grown to include more than 50 households and seen the birth of a similar project in Umzimkulu.
Mentorship is a vital component and one such project is the Celokuhle Timber Dairy Farm Trust in Swartberg which, under the mentorship of a local farmer, is currently milking more than 80 cows, has 239 head of cattle, grows timber and through the support of the Agribusiness Development Agency has seen the development of a new dairy and a pivot irrigation system.
Another successful mentorship project involves a dairy milking 150 cows on a 120-hectare farm in Donnybrook, where a 10-year-long mentorship between an aspiring farmer and a neighbouring commercial farmer is proof that with support, the sharing of knowledge and expertise, commercial farmers are vital in the land reform process.
Another project involves the implementation of an irrigation scheme for a Hlutankungu vegetable farmer who approached Harry Gwala Agri for assistance. The organisation sourced sponsorship from agri-businesses to cover the costs of the scheme and paired the farmer with a neighbouring farmer to provide mentorship.
“Mentorship is crucial and we hope in time more and more commercial farmers see the value in what we are trying to do,” said Weyer.
CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, Kwanalu, Sandy La Marque commended the organisation for its proactive approach and positive attitude in taking national priorities such as education and food security, and turning the tide of the local economy through tangible actions.
Main picture, top: High Flats farmer Douglas Strachan discusses vegetable growing skills with neighbouring smaller scale farmers.