Milk for South Africa and training for KZN youth – Inyosi Empowerment CEO Evan Jones 

One of the success stories of land that was transferred back to the community is Makhoba Farms, a 10,000-hectare farm at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. Makhoba Farms, assisted by Nestlé, is currently producing four and a half million litres of milk for the country every year. To equip the young people in the area with agricultural skills, Inyosi Empowerment has been offering training to 100 youths every year. The training spans agripreneurship tasks including alien clearing, feed production, vegetable production, fencing, security, construction, ICT, and first aid. Inyosi CEO Evan Jones told BizNews that 400 Youth Employment Services (YES) interns have so far successfully graduated from the course. Jones said 24% of the interns in 2022 were employed by Makhoba farms and the majority of the remaining graduates found jobs elsewhere due to their enhanced skills training and experience. – Linda van Tilburg 

Springfontein Dairy supplies 4.5 million litres of milk a year 

Inyosi Empowerment is an enterprise and supplier development specialist. So, we’ve been around since 2012. We essentially fund black-owned businesses, and we do that on behalf of our clients. We have about 500 companies who have invested with us and we lend to black-owned companies. A couple of years ago, we were introduced to the largest black-owned dairy supplier to Nestlé. Nestlé is one of our investors and we went and looked at their farm. They set up a farm called Springfontein Dairy. It’s under a Makhoba Community Trust. We decided to invest in the dairy; it’s a state-of-the-art dairy. I think they supply Nestlé with about four and a half million litres of milk a year. 

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The Makhoba community who was displaced in the 1950s were given back 10,000 hectares

In the 1950s, they were displaced from their ancestral lands and were moved to about 35, 40 kilometres closer to the Lesotho border. When the new government came in, there was a commission for land redistribution that was set up and they commissioned the government. There’s a whole long process that they went through, they had to determine which beneficiaries, which households and effectively 1412 households were identified. That list was promulgated and the list is kept by the trust and also by the Commission for land redistribution and those households were then provided with about 10,000 hectares that were then bought back from commercial farmers on an arm’s length basis. So, it’s a non-contentious land redistribution claim that was ultimately settled. 

Training for 400 community members in agripreneurship

Nestlé has been hugely instrumental and they initially provided support and guidance largely through the local Underberg Depot, so the Nestlé Depot. Nestle then introduced us to the dairy. We did an analysis and realised that they had wanted to plant lucerne fields. In a dairy typically the cattle can only walk a certain distance. So, what you do is you farm slightly further away and then you bring the feed to the cattle and they want to plant lucerne lands. So, we provided them with funding for that. Once we’d done that, we realised there was quite a big community, 1400 households and so we approached Nestlé and asked them whether they could see any way to assist the community. We were helping in the dairy with funding from Nestlé and our other investors, but we thought that they could provide assistance to the community and Nestlé was looking to do the YES program. So, they asked us whether we couldn’t combine the two. Is there a way that we could run the YES program and we could help the community? Effectively, what we did is we took about half of the Nestlé YES program. The Nestlé program initially started at 200. It’s a little bit more than that now and we trained 100 youth from that community a year in agripreneurship, chainsaw security, fencing, and all sorts of farm-related activities. This is our fourth cohort. So, we’ve trained over around 400 people at the moment. 

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Helping to overcome unemployment Catch-22 with YES public-private partnership

I think you’ll know from your own experience globally; it doesn’t matter where you are. Your first job is the most difficult job to get because you walk in and you’ve got no skills and you’ve got no experience and everyone’s asking you what experience you’ve got. You can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. So, you are in this Catch-22 situation. The Youth Employment Service, which is the YES program, is I think a brilliant public-private partnership. It gives the companies who participate in it boosts their BEE scorecard. So, there’s a benefit there. They pay a one-year minimum wage towards an unemployed youth. So, it gives unemployed youth their first job. So, we started the program by brainstorming and figuring out what you think will work. Every year we assess what has worked and what we need to change. Every year we’ve tried to refine the program, and the thinking largely is around trying to equip the local youth with skills that they can use, within a farming setting. we do agripreneurship, we do vegetable farming, chicken farming, black wattle and alien vegetation clearing because that’s a big issue. We do fencing, we’ve got fencing teams, we’ve got all sorts of things. Quite a number of people have managed to get jobs on other farms. Some of them have got jobs with suppliers to farmers. Many of them work in the dairy, so they rotate through the dairy to get an idea of what it’s like to work in a commercial set-up. But, with South Africa’s unemployment, many of them end up still unemployed, but at least they’ve had a first job. If they get asked if they’ve had a previous job, they can answer, yes, and they’ve got a bit of experience. It is certainly by no means the silver bullet, but it’s certainly an intervention, which we think has resulted in quite a number of the students actually getting jobs. 

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Makhoba Farms: A template of successful farming following land restitution? 

I don’t want to claim to have the insights to remedy that situation. If you just think practically, here is a community who has been moved off their lands in 1950 and roughly in 2004, they got their land back. There’s a 50-year hiatus. To try and remedy that in five or ten years I think is impossible. I think the government has tried to intervene and try to do land redistribution. I think the process of training farmers is a very long-term process. I certainly think that more can be done. The YES program happened to be a plug-in to that and we’ve got in addition to the annual training that we’ve got, we’ve also identified a handful of people that we think over a longer training period may be able to step into more managerial roles or more leadership roles. But that’s a long-term thing that we’re busy with. Again, it’s not easy. We are clear on what we need to do. We are unclear as to how to do it. So, we are trying to do it in a way that makes sense to us, whether that’s ultimately going to achieve the goals and objectives that we’ve set, that’s going to be a function of a large element of luck, good fortune, the people that we’ve selected and the relative randomness of that selection. We’ve tried to select the people who’ve appeared to be most likely to us [to succeed], but we have got successive programs. So, you may get someone who’s a late entrant, they may come into the fifth-year program, but they may be the best person for it but they are already five years late. There’s the natural randomness of change. So, we try to play the cards that we’ve been dealt. Every year we try to sit back and analyse what we have done, what’s worked, what has worked, and try and finesse it. It’s not broken, so it doesn’t need to be fixed. It can be improved every year.