Film maker Mart Willemse with farming siblings Lethiwe and Sabatha Mthethwa

Bayer and Grain SA release documentary about impactful Farmer Development Programme

There are over two million smallholder or household farmers in South Africa*. These are farmers that farm on small areas in order to feed their families, ideally with some surplus to sell or trade**. These smallholder farmers have a significant role to play in terms of household food security and income, but many are farming well below their potential.

It is because of this that Grain SA has been involved in farmer development since its inception in 1999. This initiative not only contributes to a prosperous agricultural sector, but also addresses food security and food sovereignty, income generation for those who have access to land, protection of the natural resources and job creation.

Grain SA’s Sandile Ngcamphalala with Liza Bohlmann, Dudu Mashile, Perusha Pillay and Anthony Maina from Bayer

Through partnerships with Grain SA and government, as well as with other industry role players such as Bayer, many farmers have moved from start-ups to scale-ups. They have  increased their yields and become more profitable and more importantly, they have learnt better and more sustainable farming practices.

For Thembi Shongwe who farms in the Breyten area of Mpumalanga, this intervention has been life changing. She is feeding her family and supporting her community while starting to profit from her produce. “For me, farming is in my heart, and I feel it can take me places,” says Thembi, who is one of the farmers featured in a new documentary which tells the heartfelt stories of passionate farmers who have risen above almost impossible odds.

Entitled ‘Blessings – Feeding Tomorrow Today’, this documentary released this week by Bayer and Grain SA shows the real impact this initiative is having across the country.

In line with the company’s vision of ‘hunger for none,’ Bayer Crop Science supports these smallholder farmers around South Africa by providing seed and crop protection innovations as well as the necessary education to help them produce sustainable and healthy crops.

According to Dr Dirk Strydom, Marketing Lead at Grain SA, getting these small-scale producers to get commercial yields is the ultimate goal of this initiative. For this, they need access to good quality  seeds, good quality chemicals and good quality fertilizers. “Bayer plays a big role in helping us to give that access to producers, access to the right technology,” he says.

“For us at Bayer, Africa is a growth continent. A substantial part of this growth is the impact that we have on smallholder farmers and subsistence farmers,” says Klaus Eckstein, Country Divisional Head at Bayer Crop Science Southern Africa. He says their partnership with Grain SA is enabling education and training to empower smallholder subsistence farmers in South Africa to not only acquire knowledge, but to use and adopt the technology available.

Parusha Pillay, BBBEEE Manager at Bayer South Africa, says that Bayer is uniquely positioned through their resources, knowledge and capabilities to make a meaningful difference within this space. She says that through their partnership with Grain SA, they are able to reach and support many communities of smallholder farmers.

But sharing this knowledge on sustainable agronomic practices requires a well-structured network of knowledgeable people. Grain SA runs these programmes from each of their regional offices, with managers, coordinators and a network of trainers and mentors all playing their part. These nine regional offices are spread throughout South Africa, with over 260 active farmer study groups currently.

Thembi Shongwe is just one example of a subsistence farmer who benefited from step-by-step training and the knowledge needed to grow her farm from 1 hectare to 10 hectares, while increasing her yields substantially. Key to this success story has been the transfer of skills, sharing how to work more efficiently, to follow the correct production practices and to start farming for profit. Despite rising unemployment and hard economic conditions in this mining town, Thembi believes that where there is an opportunity to plant, hope abounds.

From Masoyini Village in Limpopo, to Dannhauser in KwaZulu Natal, this documentary tracks the progress and stories of many farmers –  some who are still improving their own farming businesses, and some who have achieved great success and who have now become mentors themselves.

“We see smallholder farmers as future commercial farmers and future contributors to the South African economy. Smallholder farmers add to the diversity in our agricultural industry and are important contributors to building rural economies and growing the agricultural sector,” says Dudu Mashile, Territory Sales Manager: Smallholder & New Era Commercial.

“Becoming profitable and more efficient brings more jobs to rural communities, makes farming easier and enables smallholder farmers to send their children to school and university. They are not just farmers, but entrepreneurs in the true sense of the word,” Dudu says.

“This is an opportunity that can change the food security and nutrition picture of many households in South Africa” says Sandile Ngcamphalala, Farmer Development Lead at Grain SA. “That really excites me, and I want to be part of that future”.

To watch the full documentary, click here https://youtu.be/ohECNZsGCMg.