December 5, 2012

Suurbraak Grain Farmers’ Cooperative

Conservation Agriculture Award Winner

A group of emerging farmers in the Suurbraak region, in the Overberg of South Africa, are practicing conservation agriculture in new and innovative ways. The results of their farming methods are showing in their higher crop yields and their improved soil fertility. What’s more, these farmers have adopted a Conservation Management Plan, which has been incorporated into their farming business plan. This ensures they protect the critically endangered renosterveld on their land. For them, healthy ecosystems equal healthy farming – a system that benefits both the farmer, and his land. Around a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture completed a farm management plan for this farming area. Following this, the Department funded considerable infrastructure development. This set the foundation for the start of the Suurbraak Grain Farmers’ Cooperative – a cooperative that has undertaken innovative and unique approaches to community development and conservation agriculture.

About the Project

In 2009, a commercial farmer from the area, Dirk van Papendorp, took it upon himself to assist an emerging farmer, Dirkie Willemse, who was farming on just 19 hectares of arable Act 9 land. Dirk became a mentor for Dirkie – initially assisting him by sourcing funding, donating seed and compost and offering practical farming assistance. At a farmers’ day held in November 2010, it was decided to formalize this arrangement by supporting grain farming on a commercial scale in Suurbraak. The mentor agreed to take a further four emerging farmers under his wing. These were: Eddie Adams (access to 185 hectares), Wilmar Adams (son of Eddie, access to 82 hectares of his father’s land), Chris Louw (access to 41 hectares of arable land), Allen Jephta (access to 83 hectares of Act 9 land) and Dirkie Willemse (who increased his access to 70 hectares, 49 of which was arable). And so the Suurbraak Grain Farmers’ Cooperative was launched.

Suurbraak
Suurbraak

This map denotes the Suurbraak communal land – as divided into arable land and veld. Source: Renosterveld Management & Conservation Project

The purpose of the project, which is now in its second year, is to create a sustainable land use model for dry-land grain farming where farmers would be able to grow into full scale commercial farmers with enough of their own funding to be able to finance their own production inputs, as well as create a healthy living standard for their families, and increasingly for community members. This project would automatically allow the emerging farmers to augment their own skills, experiences and farming knowledge, and to pass these skills onto other community members. For the mentor, this means empowering the Suurbraak community to make use of the full 2145 hectares of arable land. His goal is to see each of the emerging farmers gain access to 250 hectares each. This is a level that would allow the project to effectively meet two legs of the triple bottom line: economic sustainability and social sustainability (through increased job creation).

What has set the Suurbraak Grain Farmers’ Cooperative apart from its farming peers is its emphasis on the third leg of the triple bottom line: the environmental sustainability. From the outset, the project sought to promote conservation practices in farming that would protect the environment.

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