Tomato initiative sprouts jobs and opportunities for local youth 

NOVEMBER 18, 2014

A rural tomato agro processing business initiative in Chris Hani’s Tendergate village is sprouting buds of hope on local youth drafted into the programme aimed at ending youth unemployment, improve skills development and fight poverty. 

In response to local socio economic challenges, the municipality teamed up with Rural Development and Agrarian Reform and DICLA, a private company, to start crop incubation tunnel site planting about 18000 tomato seedlings in 20 tunnels, thousands of spinach seedlings in the 5 hectares in the site. 

According to Chris Hani Mayor Mxolisi Koyo, the initiative was started to give local co-operatives a short in the arm to benefit from available economic opportunities. 

“We worked with DICLA to train our co-operatives on the methods of agro processing so that after five years, they start their own similar projects with the support of our municipality. We use such initiatives to fight poverty and unemployment in the district. We want to do this in the entire district,” said Koyo. 

About 28 local youths representing co-operatives from five villages underwent a three year accredited agriculture learnership program prior to starting making seed beds for tomato seedlings in the tunnels. 

Nonkululeko Phike, 29, said she was getting important agricultural skills and knowledge, which will help her manage her Co-operative better. 

“From the project I am learning better crop production methods, irrigation management and leadership skills knowledge which I would not have learnt if I was not part of this project. I use my stipend to provide for my family,” said Phike. 

Ardent local crop producer, Siphamandla Ndzongani, 24, said though he was involved in a nearby agriculture scheme, and his family home garden, working at the tomato tunnels gave him a new set of skills. 

“After training, the first thing we were taught was to make seed beds, lay spaghetti irrigation system infrastructure. Thereafter, we were taught how to plant tomato seeds properly, how to use different types of fertilizer and how to irrigate seedlings for better harvest,” said Ndzongani.

Local unemployed information technology graduate, Noluthando Dumbisa, 26, said she joined the site because she was unemployed. 

“I have learnt that this work is not just about crop production because as the initiative grows, there will be a need for technology. With the information I would have accumulated by then, coupled with my IT skills, I will be an asset to the programme because here we are groomed to be specialists,” said Dumbisa

The first harvest from the tunnels expected in the last week of December is estimated to yield about 180 tons of tomatoes to be sold to local retail, fruit and vegetable stores in the district. 

Chris Hani economic development agency CEO, Thukela Mshologu said their broader plan was to open other agro processing tunnels in all five Ntabethemba villages and district’s other local municipalities. 

“Now that Ntabethemba is operating fully, we will soon start similar work in Lukhanji and Sakhisizwe municipalities. In February next year we plan to build a packing warehouse where all the sites will send tomatoes for packaging to be sold to shops in the in the province starting with the district, province and to national chain stores,” said Mshologu, adding that they will start massive fruit and livestock production in the district. 

Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC, Mlibo Qoboshiyane said he believed such initiatives will not only increase job opportunities but will also connect centers of industry and commerce for the whole agro sector to thrive in places like Chris Hani. 

“The use of land and capacity of the state to intervene in fighting poverty, unemployment and inequality is really taken seriously in this municipality. Government and state agencies supposed to invest on initiatives like these. I am quite sure this is one of the best models we must take and use going forward,” said Qoboshiyane. 

Situated on the foot of Ntabethemba and Mnqwazi mountains, flanked by rolling green hills, Ntambethemba administrative area covers wards 1, 2, and 3 with a population of 20 373 residents.

Photo caption: Chris Hani District Municipality Executive Mayor Mxolisi Koyo (left) and Eastern Cape Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC, Mlibo Qoboshiyane (right).