Cultivating new futures
FarmSol MD, Aron Kole, says, the development of emerging farmers should be seen not only as a national project, but as an initiative extending far beyond a government transformation objective. “This historical imperative is not merely about restoring lost dreams; it is a committed focus on the creation of new futures and possibilities in agriculture, marking our unstinting belief in, and support of, South African smallholder farmers,” he explains.
Kole shares his vision and plans for FarmSol…
How can South Africa harness the potential of smallholder farmers?
It is important to ensure that smallholder farmers are equipped with the right skills in terms of business and technical know-how, and not to only have access to land but fertile soils. This will enable them to build-up their soils in order to remain productive and ensure or produce best farming yields and returns.
Moreover, the farmers must have access to modern production inputs that are adaptable to the current climatic conditions and their individual farmer circumstances and have a consistent market for their produce as well as ‘patient-financing’. This will enable them to build a good balance sheet, and make them bankable, thus enabling them to access commercial funding beyond a developmental phase to ensure their business’ sustainability.
What do you think is the missing link when it comes to supporting upcoming farmers?
There is a need to support genuine farmers that have the passion and resilience to farm by empowering them with the necessary training, tools and equipment, as well as access to productive soils. There is also the need to establish a comprehensive agricultural insurance product to help mitigate risk for farmers and financiers; this will further unlock funding and ensure that agricultural production continues.
I emphasize genuine farmers because I know that a farm’s success is dependent on the farmer himself. That old saying of leading a horse to water applies. You can give a farmer an opportunity, but you can’t force him/her to take advantage and make a success of it. Therefore, farmer selection is very important aspect for us.
Using the FarmSol farmer selection scorecard, which uses various metrics that are allocated different weights based on importance. We assess agronomic capacity and capability, the financial status of the farmer, his/her farming skill and experience, mechanisation availability, as well as the farm location to ensure we have a good footprint in that area and that we will be able to service the farmer efficiently. Producers are then segmented in low-, medium- and high-maturity farmers to ensure a targeted approach in helping them move to the next level of growth
What is FarmSol’s development blueprint?
Our developmental approach is about linking smallholder farmers to multinationals, thereby creating a reliable market and platform for farmers to source their raw materials for multinationals. It is unique in the sense that we connect both spectrums of the supply chain; the customer and the supplier.
What is your vision for smallholder farmers?
Our aim is to become a thriving social enterprise that connects and assures the future of both smallholders and our customers. For this calibre of development to succeed, there is a need to work together in greater magnitude and be responsive to the needs of smallholder farmers.
Furthermore, it is critical that our support as stakeholders is of such a nature that the long-term outcomes eliminate barriers to entry for smallholders and enable them to generate jobs, contribute to food security and play a significant role in the economy of agriculture and our country.
How do you strike a balance between funding and production support?
Once farmers are segmented and the necessary due diligence has been conducted, production needs are determined, after which an agricultural specialist draws up a production budget in consultation with the farmer. Once the application has passed all the necessary vetting’s, the request for loan funding is submitted to South African Breweries for funding approval.
Farming inputs are procured, and once climatic and soil conditions are favourable, production can commence. A FarmSol agricultural specialist works closely with the farmer for the entire duration of the season to provide mentorship and production support.
What has your work experience been in the sector?
As a qualified agricultural professional with over 11 years’ industry experience covering agronomy, project management and strategic leadership, I have a passion for the sector and its development. As a result, I see transformation as an on-going project requiring more stakeholders.
Having obtained an MBA from North-West University, my knowledge of agriculture both from a technical and management background, has enabled me to factor in a critical and necessary business approach in the way I seek to address agricultural development.
What keeps you awake at night about smallholders?
Our assistance, through the FarmSol developmental programme, is aimed at improving the livelihood of farmers and that of their families, so I always wonder if we are doing enough to enable these farmers to make a meaningful living from agriculture.
The point is that there are so many odds against ‘the small farmer’ in modern-day agriculture, from droughts and price fluctuations to pests and disease outbreaks. The majority of these challenges are outside the control of farmers, and the question I always ask myself is: “Have I done all within my means and in my position to ensure that ‘the small guy’ has a fair chance to succeed in agriculture and becomes the best farmer he or she can be”.