Kgodiso Development Fund and Grain SA give hope to Milnerdale Farm

On a 612-hectare farm in Dannhauser, a small town between Dundee and Newcastle in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Mthethwa family had for many years produced maize and soya beans crops on their Milnerdale farm. Following the tragic death of the patriarch in 2018, 33-year-old Lethiwe Mthethwa and siblings, found themselves at the helm of the family business.

“Stepping into my father’s shoes was not easy – we were faced with many challenges - a fear of failure, low-confidence, and a lack of respect from workers and the potential for all of this to negatively  impact our family dynamic. Despite this, we managed to embrace our challenges for the success of the farm. We learnt to trust each other as siblings and that strengthened our bond and helped in decision making and idea generation,” says Mthethwa. With limited experience and resources, Mthethwa is breaking barriers and pioneering a new generation of sustainable farmers in the country.

The farming sector is arguably one of the most important economic sectors for South Africa’s development as it is directly linked to food security and poverty reduction. The majority of South Africa’s smallholder female farmers, in particular those in rural areas, are underrepresented in the sector and these farmers rely predominately on the land to feed their families with the hope of a small surplus to sell for some additional income.

The Kgodiso Development Fund, which was founded by PepsiCo, aims to support the broad socioeconomic imperatives of emerging farmers, enterprise development , education and SMMEs across PepsiCo’s value chain.

Mthethwa is a beneficiary of the Grain SA/Phahama Grain Phakama (PGP) - Farmer Development Programme, which received funding from the Kgodiso Development Fund and Standard Bank to finance black emerging farmers.  In a heartwarming success story, she has successfully settled her loan following this year’s good harvest. She hopes all small-scale farmers can be uplifted and supported with working capital, machinery and efficient utilisation of funds, as well as mentoring and commercial guidance to grow and participate in mainstream farming.

Tshego Selepe, Agribusiness Manager at The Kgodiso Development Fund explains the fund, which was launched in March this year, is part of the public interest commitment made to the government during PepsiCo’s  acquisition of Pioneer Foods and is aimed at transforming South Africa’s food systems through supporting black emerging farmers.

“PepsiCo has committed to invest a total of R600 million over a 5-year period in the Fund; R200 million is for education and training; R100 million will go towards SME development, while R300 million has been set aside to support black emerging farmers.” Selepe says the fund and Standard Bank have each contributed 50% of the loan to  given to Mthethwa, via the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme.

“The fund has helped us a lot. The funding allows us to buy input materials and tractors. When we get a profit, we will use it to buy more input to grow the business and employ more people to expand the farm,” Mthethwa adds.

With a mission of developing capacitated sustainable grain farmers, the Grain SA/PGP Farmer Development programme contributes to household and national food security through the optimal use of the land available to each farmer. “Our goal is to ensure that each one of the farming enterprises supported through our programme are profitable, they grow and are sustainable” says Sandile Ngcamphalala from the Grain SA/ PGP Farmer Development Programme.

Ngcamphalala acknowledged the growing partnership with the Kgodiso Development Fund adding that, “We need more strategic collaboration with like-minded partners to help achieve these goals. On behalf of many of the farmers participating in our programme, we remain extremely grateful for the vital role that Standard Bank and the Kgodiso Development Fund are playing in supporting the development of grain farmers in South Africa through direct financial and technical contributions.”

As someone who has been described as incredibly hard working, Mthethwa says it’s important for women to get involved in farming. “I’m so happy to be in this field of farming which seems like it’s male dominated, but I can drive a tractor and do what males do in this industry. So, I want to encourage all women out there, that you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it. Making women active participants of the agricultural economy has benefits that extend way beyond their own livelihoods — helping to improve the lives of their families and communities too,” concluded Mthethwa.

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