Turnaround specialist: Meet Tiger Brands’ largest black-female-owned aggregator of small white beans

Mzansi Agri Talk caught up with Tiger Brand’s largest black-female-owned aggregator of small white beans. In late 2020, Lusanda Moletsane’s Khumo Ea Tsebo (KET) agricultural company was onboarded to Tiger Brands’ agri-aggregator programme where her company was supported with R10.5 million which included a low interest loan and technical support funding; as part of Tiger Brands’ ESD, to supply the food manufacturer with small white beans by mid-2021.

The country’s largest food manufacturer, Tiger Brands, is prioritising the transformation of South Africa’s agricultural sector through ongoing support to its enterprise supplier development (ESD) programme.

The programme supports black female farmers and black small-scale farmers with funding, market access, turnaround and commercialisation strategies, as well as mentorship and capacity building, as it bolsters its aggregator model.

Moletsane says she has been acquainted with far too many farmers who live and work on a hand-to-mouth basis. Her motivation is to help others build sustainable businesses and join the mainstream economy within the agricultural sector.

“I’ve seen the struggle to commercialise land that has been transferred to previously disadvantaged South Africans, I want to help these farmers run lucrative farms that generate enough money to cover their operating expenses and become profitable businesses that will grow in the future,” she said.

Moletsane has 16 years of experience as a turnaround specialist which has enabled her to become Tiger Brands’ largest black-female-owned aggregator of small white beans.

Her two farming clusters in Nigel and Bronkhorstspruit cover 462 hectares growing to 10 000 hectares this year and include 10 farmers – four of whom are black women. At the start of her first harvest, she expected to supply 2 tonnes per hectare of Tiger Brands’ small white beans.

Moletsane says that that the difference between subsistence and commercial farming lies in subsistence farmers not paying enough attention to the finer details that make a crop commercial – such as the measures needed to increase productivity and boost yields.

She admits that it’s impossible to know everything, hence the need for mentors who are technically inclined and entrepreneurially minded, especially as many farmers find it challenging to keep production and financial records – which are required to secure funding.

Litha Kutta, Tiger Brands’ Enterprise and Supplier Development Director says Moletsane works with Nic Basson, an agronomist advisor and mentor who has helped KET identify land that is suitable for planting small white beans.

He has also assisted the farmers with soil preparation, planting, weed and pest control and will assist with harvesting, cleaning and transportation of the harvest.

Moletsanes says Basson wants the crop to be successful, “just as we do, because it also impacts his reputation. Without him, we wouldn’t have been able to open certain doors in the agricultural sector”.

Moletsane has inspired her farmers to increase the size of their farms and potential yields. She is already raising further grant funding for future expansion, to make waterways ahead of next year’s harvest, and to hire young agricultural graduates.

“I want my life’s legacy to be all the businesses that we’ve turned around, all the farmers that we’ve commercialised, and all the fallow lands that we have made productive. When we have 100 000ha under our care in five years’ time, then I’m going to say that I am helping to feed the nation,” said Moletsane.

Advising emerging and small-scale farmers, Moletsane said the business must generate enough money and have enough left to cover their operating expenses while also having enough left over to live on and also grow their businesses.

“Farmers struggle to grow in agriculture as it’s a highly capitalised industry. Buying equipment doesn’t come cheap and some machines can cost you over R3 million. So, you have to be running a good sizable business for you to operate effectively,” she said.

Moletsane also told Mzansi Agri Talk about the dark side of farming. Some of the worst things a farmer can prepare for?

“As a farmer you also need to stay in payer because you can have hail anytime and it takes just one hail to destroy all the beans will be on the floor and it will be a loss,” she said, pointing to the white beans at the farm in Nigel.

“For example, this year we have had very strong rains and we spend a lot of money on chemicals to manage the weeds … so those are the kind of things that are always challenges…We can’t control the weather so we always trust that God that he will give us the right weather,” she said.

Another factor that makes a farmer is passion.

“You see now that we are harvesting, we all here at 6am until evening and that’s why I’m saying a person must have passion for this. If you have a short term view you are not going to make it and farming is more of a medium term to long term game…you’re not going to get into it for one year and then make money. You might be lucky but it doesn’t work like that…you need to have a three-to-five-year plan because anything less than this means you’re not going to yield the results that you are looking for,” says Moletsane.

Historically, one of the greatest challenges that face black smallholder farmers is access to funding so Mzansi Agri Talk asked Moletsane for her advice in this regard.

“I have dealt with a few financiers and there are certain critical things that they look for before they release their money. They look for things such as the necessary skills to do what you want them to fund you for, secondly the financial viability of your business. They’ll actually put your business plan through a lot of tests.

“You need to have a formal market to be able to secure funding and you can’t gear your business plan against the informal market. You may have an informal market which you are servicing but those are things that you can’t quantify because you can’t guarantee that all your produce would be sold there and on time. Hence you need a formal offtake that then assures your funder that when they give you money, you have someone who is going to take your products and be able to pay them back,” she said.

Kutta said that a small farmer with a 100-ha farm, or even a 1 000-ha farm, would never be able to supply a pan-African food manufacturer such as Tiger Brands, when you consider the tonnage required to supply our demand, however, “through our Aggregator programme, we are able to aggregate and empower small farmers with supported access to the formal agricultural market.”

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