Corporate Social Investment

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Re Tsoga Pele grows the future

With cash from the Industrial Development Corporation and help from its partner, Food and Trees for Africa, Re Tsoga Pele Vegetable Supply Co-operative is producing a fine crop.

October 22, 2012

Reaping rewards of hard work: Re Tsoga Pele chairperson Jeffrey ModiseReaping rewards of hard work: Re Tsoga Pele chairperson Jeffrey Modise

Just two years ago, a piece of ground in Lerome South Village wouldn't have passed for much in the eyes of a layman – it was an unproductive scrubland, home to unwelcome rodents.

But 17 enterprising farmers going by the collective name of Re Tsoga Pele Vegetable Supply Co-operative, saw value in the land, took up shovels and picks, and turned it into fertile ground. The one-hectare plot now supplies organic spinach and cabbages to Lerome South and surrounding areas.

Lerome South Village, outside Mogwase in the Moses Kotane Local Municipality of North West Province, is the envy of other villages in the area, thanks in part to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Its corporate social investment (CSI) unit stepped in with funds to help the co-op at the beginning of this year. The money was used to re-design the farm and to install infrastructure, as well as to provide training and mentorship.

The co-op has been farming the piece of land for the past two years; it has been a long struggle for the farmers, who have received no skills or financial assistance from the local municipality. Re Tsoga Pele, which means "we wake up early", is now reaping the rewards of its efforts.

On a hot October day, the co-op members were busy tending their farm. After the rains of the previous night, their spinach and cabbages looked lush and juicy. "We already started selling the matured spinach to the local community. We also sell to shops in the Sun City mall and lodges nearby," said the co-op's marketing manager, Ezekiel Masilo Morobe.

Spinach for sale

The vegetable farm looks luxuriantThe vegetable farm looks luxuriantA generously sized bunch of spinach goes for R7, a price Morobe said most villagers in Lerome South could afford. "When we go out to sell to local villagers, we use a wheelbarrow which can carry a maximum of 25 bundles, and a loud hailer to advertise our stock. We also receive orders from local vendors. We act as a wholesaler," he explained.

Large, well-known chain-stores have also shown an interest in purchasing the co-op's organic vegetables. "This is where the big money is," said Morobe.

An ecstatic Jeffrey Modise, the chairperson and founder of the co-op, said it had been a hard and eventful road since they started the group in 2010. "We spent lots of time and energy preparing the farm. Even though we hired a tractor to help with clearing the land, we had to dig about 60 percent of the farm manually. It was a hard time but now we are starting to make money."

The farm is composed of 84 beds, each measuring 36.5 metres by 1.5 metres. The beds are divided into "zones" – from Zone 1A to Zone 2D. Zone 1A grows spinach only and Zone 1B grows spinach and cabbages. Cabbages dominate in zones 2A to 2D, according to Modise.

"We have 44 beds of spinach and 40 beds of cabbage in total. However, we will only start harvesting cabbages maybe at the end of November to the beginning of December this year because we have been experiencing problems with water. Growing cabbages demands a lot of water."

The future

Modise has big dreams for the co-operative. His wish is to see the farm growing to include the production of tomatoes, carrots, onions and beetroot. "When we go out selling our spinach to the community, they always ask us ‘Where are the tomatoes? Where are the onions?' Our aim is to clear more land to the north and south of our farm, if we get more funding."

There are other challenges: sometimes the sun beats down hot on the produce and the tender young spinach leaves wither and begin to die. Yet nothing goes to waste. These withering young leaves are not thrown away; they are cooked and dried to make what Modise calls "traditionally dried morogo", which is also sold to the community.

In any other area, the scrumptious-looking vegetables grown by Re Tsoga Pele would be excellent fodder for thieves. However, Modise said the fence around the farm was mainly to keep away livestock, not thieves.

"We don't anticipate anyone stealing from us because this is a community project. People living around the farm actually keep an eye on [it] to ensure there is no one who steals from us. We are a tight community."

Despite all looking bright and green, Modise said there were a few nagging problems: the shortage of water, transport and expansion. "We do have a windmill which we use to fill up eight 5 000 litre water tanks to water our vegetables. But this is not enough because the windmill doesn't pump enough water for our needs. We need a dependable supply of water."

He was also looking for well-wishers to donate a bakkie to transport the produce, and more funds to help the co-op expand. It is also mulling the idea of trying out the Nguni Cattle Project, an IDC initiative aimed at reintroducing the Nguni cattle breed into selected rural communities across the country. The ultimate objective is to develop beneficiaries into commercial farmers.

Food and trees

The co-op's success has been helped by Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), a non-governmental organisation that works for sustainable development through climate change action, food security and greening. FTFA is now responsible for the project and manages it on behalf of the beneficiaries.

Its mentor and skills trainer for the co-operative, Desmond Mohlolo, said he had been working with the project for a few months and already the farmers had grasped the concept of organic farming. The farm only uses organic fertilisers to grow vegetables.

"They have been very receptive to organic farming. They are a very dedicated and committed group; that is why their project is one of the best I have ever managed," he said, adding that he would remain with the group for some time to come until he was sure it is self-sustainable.


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