Lower Orange River Valley is situated in the depths of Northern Cape, huddled outside Keimoes 45km away from Upington. Known for its table grape and raisins production, a farming community called Eksteenskuil is breaking all barriers.
According to Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform, the Eksteenskuil Agricultural Cooperative (EAC) showed commitment to producing quality raisins grapes since 2006.
“Following a comprehensive consultative process, the Eksteenskuil Agricultural Co-operative (EAC) was registered in December 2006. To date, estimated production of grapes in the EAC is between 400 and 1200 tons per year depending on weather conditions” said the regional district manager responsible for the project Christo Smit.
The total area of land comprises of 2000 ha of which 629 ha was under irrigation.
Pieter Van Wyk, was one of the pioneers of EAC who lobbied strongly for government and private sector intervention.
“In 2012, government and the private sector joined hands with us and funded EAC operations with the proviso that is must be managed professionally guided by basic business principles. We currently have 112 active members who sit on various board committees” he said.
Government grant support is paid directly to the EAC account which bodes well for their corporate governance.
“We have grown independently as a cooperative as in the 2019/2020 financial year we managed to construct trellis system from our own coffers” said Gerrie Louw a board member of EAC.
The model of EAC seemed to debunk the myth that cooperatives cannot function in a coordinated manner and be successful at the same. Jayde Loxton, a youth raisins grapes farmer, is one of the beneficiaries birthed by the project.
“Success of the EAC simply lies in collective decision making and bargaining power (procurement of production inputs and sales of produce) of all us members. We believe in the ethos of a collaboration for the benefit of our community.”
Primary to the sustainability of the cooperative is the use of machinery supplied by government in a responsible form.
Smit concurs with the sentiment that EAC members are one of the most disciplined cooperatives he has worked with even superseding targets.
“Remember that the Eksteenskuil community allocated members land and those under EAC have exhausted their land and were looking to co-opt others members of the community to expand production.”
Annually, EAC invites interested community members to join production, with those acceding to the request provided with inputs and machinery.
Louw said it was one of the pillars of EAC to grow and increase its yield for exports. “Raisins produced by EAC members are recognized as being of a very high quality and we have been informed that we produce one of the niche products in the world.”
EAC has membership in Raisin SA and the South African Table Grape Industry (SATI), meaning it contributes a percentage to horticultural exports. It supplies its produce to cellars and raisins companies.
Currently, the cooperative employs on average 800 people per season from pruning until harvesting. Each farmer has 2 or 3 permanent workers.
Raisins SA granted bursaries to 5 youth from Eksteenskuil community to study agriculture as a way to ensure that baton passes to the next generation.