Amanzi is a 211ha deciduous Fruit farm on the slopes of the Sonderend Mountains near Greyton. The farm belongs to the Department of Rural Development and for the past five years Errol April, a MK (uMkhonto weSizwe) veteran has been farming this property. “I started here in 2013 and soon learned that farming requires endurance,” says Errol. “Although I do not come from a farming background, my family used to grow their own vegetables so I have always had an affinity for agriculture. As a result of this I registered an application on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s database for a farming project and the result was I was given this opportunity here at Amanzi.
“When I arrived I really did not know anything about farming with apples and although I have learned a lot in a short time, there is always more to learn. Initially I received ongoing mentorship form my strategic partner Two-a-Day and although they still provide me with invaluable technical advice and administrative support, their formal mentorship ended in 2016 and this is the third harvest that I am harvesting on my own.
“We have achieved SIZA and GlobalGAP certification. Our SIZA audit delivered a platinum status which means that we only have to undergo our next audit in five years. From the farm the fruit goes to Two-a-day and Trucape packs and sells it for us.
Amanzi only has 31ha under production and has room and water for expansion. “I would like to expand the farm to at least 50ha,” says Errol. “It would also be good to be able to diversify what we produce and create more jobs in the area. Thus when I heard about the Jobs Fund from Hortgro I was very keen to embrace this possibility. The Ethnic Leadership Institute assisted us to prepare our business application for submission and we were approved as recipients of the Jobs Fund.
“In 2016 we received irrigation technology and equipment. Our irrigation system was very antiquated and it was not officially mapped and we did not have very good control over the irrigation. With the equipment from the Jobs Fund we were able to reduce our irrigation time periods from 32 hours of shifts per day to 20 hours of shifts per day. This has made our irrigation system much more efficient, we get through our shifts successfully in a day and water our orchards more regularly and efficiently. It is also saving us a good deal in electricity and overtime costs that are no longer needed for our irrigation staff.
“During 2017 we were allocated a tractor and trailer from the Jobs Fund but I exchanged this for bin wagons and more irrigation infrastructure and this made it possible for us to continue rectifying our irrigation system. We also received ladders and picking bags and we have started preparing the ground for our expected new plantings later in 2018. We are waiting for the soil preparation to be done and in September we will be receiving 6ha of orchards from the Jobs Fund. This consists of 3.5ha of Big Bucks apples and 2.5ha of Golden Delicious apples. They do the soil preparation and provide all the infrastructure as well as the trees.
“Our youngest orchards were planted in 1988 and all our trees are old strains so we really need these new trees. The new orchards represent replanting as well as expansion and we are excited about the long-term prospects of this assistance with new orchards. Without this assistance from the Jobs Fund the process of replanting our orchards would have taken a very long time.
Currently we have 7 permanent workers, 120 seasonal workers and 20 temporary workers.
“The forthcoming national minimum wage increase as well as the one following that are worrying because this will have a serious impact on our cash flow. We will need to access funding for production capital, much of which is to cover wages, to implement all the renewals and to keep the farm running until our new orchards start providing returns. While we are very grateful for the assistance from the Jobs Fund, this faster than originally planned expansion will mean that we will definitely need funding to assist us through this waiting period. We will need to approach the Land Bank, commercial banks or a commercial entity that will assist us. We have been encouraged to approach the Land Bank for financing but this is not realising and we are concerned about how we will access this much needed funding. It might be possible or necessary for the Jobs Fund recipients in the Deciduous Fruit industry to approach the Land Bank as a group to get the benefit of collective bargaining.”
Despite these concerns, Errol and his wife Caroline are upbeat about the future of Amanzi. They love the farm life and are putting all their energy into making this farming venture a success.