OR Tambo potato cooperatives aim for commercialisation

APRIL 27, 2017
OR Tambo potato cooperatives aim for commercialisation

ECDC has disbursed R80,7 million to 153 co-operatives in the Eastern Cape through its Imvaba Co-operative Fund since it was established. 

Seven agricultural co-operatives based in the OR Tambo district of the Eastern Cape are pushing aggressively to gain access to the competitive potato production industry.

With a R3,357 million cash injection from the Eastern Cape Development Corporation’s (ECDC) Imvaba Co-operative Fund last year and with the backing of partners such as industry association Potato South Africa, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), as well as the Kei Fresh Produce Market in Mthatha some 270kms from the urban economic hub of East London,  the co-operatives have already planted 26 hectares of potatoes in this their first season.

Potatoes have been identified as the fastest moving commodity in the OR Tambo district. Initial yield estimates indicate a yield of 1,500 10kg bags of potatoes per hectare at harvest at these co-operatives.

Speaking at the OR Tambo Farmer’s Day and Potato Production Programme Launch in Mthatha last week, ECDC acting Imvaba Co-operative Fund manager Simphiwe Ntshweni says the financier disbursed R3.357 million last year through the fund to the seven co-operatives  to buy agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, seeds and pesticides.

The fund has disbursed R80,7 million to 153 co-operatives since it was established.

The seven co-operatives which have 61 members are Vukamntomtsha Agricultural Primary co-operative (Mthatha), Ngethemba Agricultural Primary Co-operative, Mampingeni General Suppliers and Multi-purpose Primary Co-operative, Living Dreams Farming Primary Co-operative, Lusikiki Potato Farming Primary Co-operative, Xhamla Mzantsi Farming Co-operative as well as Masiphakamise Ulimo Agricultural Primary Co-operative.

“The OR Tambo Farmers’ Day and Potato Production Programme Launch are a combination of the annual Potato South Africa’s farmers’ information day and the official launch of the joint support by ECDC, Kei Fresh Produce Market and Potato South Africa to local potato producers which coincides with their first harvest.

We are pleased with the partnership with Kei Fresh Produce Market which provides a market for the products of the potato producing co-operatives while linking them with distribution channels for their products.

Industry association Potato South Africa and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) came on board to offer skills, training, mentoring and technical support to improve the competitiveness of the co-operatives so that they are able to compete with their commercial counterparts,” says Ntshweni.

Ntshweni says the economy of the OR Tambo district relies on agriculture and Kei Fresh Produce Market (KFPM) in Mthatha became the obvious strategic partner in order to support the economy of this district.

Nonkululeko Mtintweni, chairperson of the five-member Ngethemba Agricultural Primary Co-operative in Mhlanganisweni village in Libode in the Nyandeni Local Municipality, says the potato producing initiative has given them an opportunity to improve their incomes, quality of their produce and to grow access to markets.

“Most of the funds bought fertilisers, seeds, pesticides and toward mechanisation costs which included hiring of a tractor to plough the fields. So far we were able to use four hectares of our land to cultivate potatoes.

"The funding from ECDC helped us a lot and another benefit has been that we are now known in many places as it has boosted our profile. We have also been able to employ a few people from our village thereby helping in job creation. A total of 11 local people were recruited on a temporary basis to help with planting potatoes, eight to assist in removing weeds while six were employed for spraying pesticides” says Mtintweni.

Acting operations and marketing manager for Kei Fresh Produce Market Melinkqubo Ndabokutya says potato production became an obvious choice because it was clear that it is the number one selling product in the OR Tambo District Municipality and it is easily cultivated.

However, the product was largely “imported” from outside the borders of the district extending beyond the province.

“In an attempt to assist local producers to benefit from potato production, Kei Fresh Produce Market has established a farmer’s support unit which provides mechanisation (tractor & planting equipment) as well as a washing and grading facility at our facility. In addition, KFPM has entered into a partnership with Potato South Africa which is offering technical support to the producers and is identifying viable markets for the product,” says Ndabokutya.

DAFF business developer Nomfesane Majova says in 2015, DAFF was amongst stakeholders that attended a potato information day in the OR Tambo district which was held in partnership with the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR), Kei Fresh Produce Market, and Potato South Africa to support, encourage and educate potato producers in the O.R Tambo district.

“DAFF began a skills transfer exercise that involved mentorship, skills development and training to ensure that the co-operatives involved in the potato growing initiative have the technical skills and expertise to compete at a commercial scale. Support included record-keeping and financial management,” adds Majova.

IMAGE: From left to right: Farmer Mlungisi Ndobeni, Chief Nobandla Makaula, OR Tambo District Municipality officials Jackson Sabona and Andiswa Dunywa, Potato South Africa Transformation Manager Nomvula Xaba, Kei Fresh Produce Marker acting operations manager Melinkqubo Ndabokutya and ECDC’s acting Imvaba Co-operatives Fund Manager Simphiwe Ntshweni.