by Siza Mtimkulu

Giving back in agriculture

Acts of kindness in the farming communities

Helping others in agriculture is good for business
helping hand.jpg

The media had a field day showing pictures of squalid living conditions for farmworkers. Among the few stories that have been recorded recently are two that inspire – but these barely made the headlines when they occurred two years ago.

The first is of a farmer, Colin Forbes, of Forbes Athole Farm in Amsterdam, Mpumalanga, who gave 10% of his land to his longest serving workers as an empowerment gesture.

“This is a show of goodwill and success,” he said. “I am not getting a salary from the government, but if they want to assist financially then a lion’s share of the proceeds will go to the workers.”

Workers who benefited from this act of kindness are those who have been working on the farm for at least 40 years.

Forbes Athole Farm produces maize, soya beans as well as potatoes in rotation, seasonally.

According to a media report, Forbes’ plan was that “the workers, being something of experts on farming already, be involved in the production and business model”.

This would make both parties more motivated and efficient. The donation included housing, as well as mentorship to assist the workers become successful commercial farmers.

A farming committee was democratically elected to oversee the transaction. Its role was to look at ways to ensure the land was used to empower the workers.

“This is a straight-forward donation; the land is a viable farming unit, which can be used for agricultural production and grazing,” Forbes said.

He said his aim was to train the people to be commercially oriented, and believed that if white commercial farmers were not willing to be involved in empowerment initiatives to solve the land reform problem in South Africa, then they should be expropriated.

“My employees have vast experience with farming, but have not had exposure to managerial responsibilities,” he said. “This is where I can transfer skills.”

He said the main emphasis is not to promote subsistence farming. “My commitment is to tutor and support the development of commercial farmers on the remaining area.”

The donated land was worth about R4.5 million at the time the deal was made, with more than 50 workers standing to benefit from the goodwill gesture.

The land is 31 hectares and can yield 7.5 to 8 tonnes of maize a hectare. In addition, there are stands of gum and wattle trees on about 110ha of land. Forbes said water was in abundance on the property, which provided good grazing for livestock, and 40 plots of 0.55ha each had been identified as residential property. This area was centred around a newly built farm school and adjoined the main road to Amsterdam.

The farm employs seasonal workers to harvest the potatoes. About 85% of this farming community is unemployed. Most residents find work during the three months when potatoes are harvested. A majority of the workers have lived on the farm and worked for Forbes’ family for four generations.

Meanwhile, another farmer from Windhoek, Namibia made a gesture of kindness at around the same time as Forbes – about two years ago.

The motivation was to help curb crime in a country with an unemployment rate of 51%, most of whom were young people. Local farmer, Gys Joubert, and his wife donated the piece of land to the Youth Against Crime initiative in Dordabis (a village in the Khomas region of Central Namibia, 80 kilometres east of the capital Windhoek). This was in response to a call by the Namibia Women’s Health Network for farmers to donate pieces of land to the youth so they could start some self-help community projects.

“Give us the tools and we will provide you with food. We have the hands but not the skills, so open your hands to us,” said the youth group during a ceremony to mark the handover of a piece of land measuring 3ha. Dordabis is a rural community with a population of about 1 500 people, the majority of whom are unemployed. There is a high rate of alcoholism and gender-based violence, as the majority of the youth fail Grade 7. Joubert, who owns Autabeb Farm, also donated two outbuildings for storage, office space and a water tank stand.

This act of kindness has inspired international organisations such as the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, Ford Foundation, the Centre for Research Information Action in Africa – Southern African Development & Consulting, and Agribank to come on board and donate money and provide skills training to the youth. Officiating at the handover, Namibia’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Immanuel Ngatjizeko, said unemployment had an impact on poverty, homelessness and family cohesion in the country. It also has a lasting effect on the dignity of people who were looking for jobs.

He added that efforts to forge partnerships between the government, the private sector and civil society could reduce the current unemployment rate of 51%. Joubert and his wife are involved in many charity projects in which they look after vulnerable children, among them a pre-primary school that they built on the farm.They called on the youth in the area to work together.




Heart-warming stories about goodwill gestures by farmers are a rare find. The wave of strikes by farmworkers, and allegations that farmers treat workers unfairly, have worsened the situation



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