For many South Africans, Ms Gloria Serobe needs no introduction, such that few could have been surprised when President Cyril Ramaphosa tapped Ms Serobe to launch the work of the Solidarity Trust.  Ms Serobe’s work in business, community and women’s organisations has long been recognised for its innovative impact.

Now, as South Africa enters lockdown level one, and economic recovery programmes are launched across a wide range of economic sectors, the lessons from a major agricultural project implemented by Ms Serobe’s WIPHOLD company in the Eastern Cape can be leveraged and replicated in other provinces.

The Centane and Mbashe Agricultural Initiative agribusiness model was launched in 2014 by Women Investment Portfolio Holdings Limited (WIPHOLD) as a corporate social investment model. WIPHOLD has a 40% shareholding, with the remaining 60% held by community participants.  Ms Serobe notes: “We began very slowly, ensuring there was buy-in from the community, meeting all traditional leaders, asking them what can be done to develop this place, so they helped map out a plan for maize and livestock.”

The project’s primary focus is to promote food security, but it also provides revenue-generating opportunities for small-scale farmers and householders active on communally-owned land in the Eastern Cape.

The project was launched with the assistance of government grant subsidies. Within two years, 2,023 landowners and project members, drawn from 34 villages, were participating in the initiative, using 2,001 hectares of cultivated land. Just over 60% of project beneficiaries are women.

While the communal farming project is managed by WIPHOLD, the community is involved in the implementation of fencing, guarding livestock, monitoring crop diseases, harvest pickup and the recruitment of staff to work the farm.  WIPHOLD nominates individuals to operate as farm managers on the project while the community appoints an executive committee for each participating village.

Landowners receive numerous incentives for participating in the project. Some of the benefits include a land-use fee set by the community – in the form of 40kg bags of maize per landowner – dividend distribution and training and development.

The Centane initiative was developed in a poverty-stricken community with zero profits in the first three years of its implementation. Due to high crop theft the initiative’s financial model prepared a cushion of emergency funds reserved each year for dividend distribution, while the farming operation builds towards profitability. Since the implementation of these provisions theft has dropped dramatically. The community mobilisation and training has also contributed to the success of the project.

As Ms Serobe recently noted: “The ultimate goal is for the people in Centane and Mbashe to run their operation on their own, they do not need a Wiphold to do this.”

The model is certainly worth replicating given its notable socioeconomic impact, the enhancement of income and food security, and favourable job creation projections.  Lessons from the project will inform the work of EDSE Programme’s agribusiness workstream, more details of which can be found here

Note: The Solidarity Fund posted an interim Impact Report in December 2020

Solidarity Fund’s performance to date: a presentation to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance (01 December 2020)