The Rise of Eastern Cape Black Farmers

I don’t really like taking photos, as I’m sure my Instagram friends have noticed. However, I’m thankful to have taken this particular one (featured image) – not because it features my good looks and charm, but because of what it represents. It was taken four years ago on the outskirts of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape province while I was visiting a group of thriving black farmers.

Back then, black farmers in the area were producing 6 000 tonnes of maize whilst at the initial stages of their learning process with an organised agricultural group. By the 2016/17 production season, their maize harvest had increased to roughly 28 000 tonnes owing to an uptick in area planted, as well as better farming practices. From a national perspective this difference may seem insignificant, but recognising the low base from which they started, I think it’s fair to say this is a damn good achievement.

A number of these farmers benefit from the support of organised agricultural groups and private investors such as Grain SA and Masisizane Fund, amongst others. Grain SA has been actively involved in the province through its Farmer Development Program, which focuses on training and skills development. The Masisizane Fund, together with the government, invested about R46 million in farming areas around Matatiele in 2016.

Alongside these developments, there is the emergence of new agricultural firms. A notable one of these is Matatiele Grainco – a 100% black-owned grain group with a focus on agricultural mechanisation and transportation of grain across the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces. Another of these is Afgrain – also a 100% black-owned food group which has a strong focus on farmer development and value chain activities.

These developments are refreshing, but there are still a number of challenges that hinder agricultural production in the province. These include, among others, poor infrastructure (roads and silos) across agricultural-producing zones, as well as communal land tenure (which is not recognised by many financial institutions).

Despite these hindrances, progress has been plentiful. It seems to me that there is a new crop of farmers and agricultural firms popping up in the Eastern Cape province, and I am publishing this photo (featured image) as a reminder of where it all started.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo)

Author: Wandile Sihlobo

Wandile Sihlobo is an agricultural economist and head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) in South Africa. He is a columnist for Business Day and Farmers Weekly magazine. Sihlobo is a member of the South African Agricultural Economics Association. He has previously served as an economist at Grain South Africa. He holds a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University.

5 thoughts on “The Rise of Eastern Cape Black Farmers”

  1. Matatiele, is indeed in the right atmosphere, as i noticed a huge increase towards maize, hopefully the department of agriculture in the eastern cape is taking a great look at the matter above.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. communal land tenure is a challenge that hinders agricultural production
    return the land to its rightful owners;
    it belongs to all who trade in it,
    our chiefs of finance and
    hedge fund management,
    consumed by the territorial envy of
    zille’s little singapore and zuma’s dubai

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Siyababongela! Travelling through former Transkei it’s clear that in days gone by there was more farming than now, by the contour swales. However something I never noticed until I did the trip in the upper deck of a double-story bus, is the scandalous lack of runoff mitigation along the N2. In areas formerly reserved for “whites”, there are constructed wetlands, but in former Transkei (which is generally more hilly and in greater need of protection, the road runoff often goes straight into a “donga”. SANRAL must be held to account!

    Liked by 1 person

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