For some of the people of Siphofaneni and surrounding areas who are currently benefitting from the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP), agriculture had always been a subsistence business.
They had never imagined that they could comfortably live off farming and manage to create employment for other emaSwati and wealth for themselves through the cultivation of the vast arable and fertile soils they had left idle for some years.
Then, through the government’s implementation of LUSIP, the farmers under the development project area are now counted among employers and are actively playing a huge role in the development of Eswatini’s economy through job creation.
Most outstandingly, the positive impact on the economy is not only made possible by those in sugarcane farming but also those focusing on alternative crops under the High Value and Horticulture Project (HVCHP), which its chief aim is to increase the contribution of the agricultural sector to poverty reduction in Eswatini by creating pro-poor growth, securing livelihoods of smallholder farmers by providing them marketing opportunities and providing locally produced diversified food on the market.
Seemingly, the impact on the lives of the farmers who are producing alternative crops was almost instantaneous. Luphiko LwaMgwagwa Farmer Company, a banana-producing enterprise, is one of the businesses contributing to sound job creation. With 34 members, this company is successfully managing 40.5 hectares of banana and 11.1 hectares are being developed for further planting.
According to ESWADE Extension Officer, Celumusa Zondo, the company started in 2013 but was battered by some teething challenges. But against that backdrop, it is now meaningfully contributing to increased banana exports from Eswatini to neighbouring South Africa.
Worth noting, the company is not directly involved in the selling and marketing of its banana produce, but a separate entity – Lusuthfu neLubovane Luyasondla (LnL). LnL is a marketing enterprise that was formed by the farmer companies under LUSIP. It is responsible for finding markets and selling the produce on behalf of the farmer companies, mostly those involved in the HVCHP.
Other bananas producing companies are Babili, Sidzakeni, and Lomveshe farmer companies whose product is also marketed by LnL.
According to LnL Consultant Manager, Nicholas Tshotsho, there are 87 people employed in the farms and the packaging and grading department is employing 51 people (16 males and 35 females). In general, the banana value chain has created over 138 jobs. When using the country’s official dependency ratio of 1:7 (one working individual supports seven people), the banana value chain is supporting 966 emaSwati.
In terms of revenue generation, Tshotsho disclosed that their projections suggest that they might get E11.7 million after selling their estimated 3 315 tons of banana this year. A ton of banana averages at E3 200. Concerning markets, Tshotsho explained that they are divided into two categories which are formal and informal. Under formal, he said there are commissioned and contracted markets. Commissioned markets are mostly export markets, which include Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban markets. The informal markets are mostly vendors. Chocho went on to say in terms of exports, only 3.0 percent went to the export market due to the outbreak of Covid-19, 87 percent went to the informal market (vendors) and only 9 percent went to the contracting market which is mainly NAMBoard, which in turn sell to the big retailers.
On the other hand, with funding from the European Union (EU), Nsikeni Farmer Company is another enterprise that is actively playing a huge role in reducing poverty, creating wealth, and creating more jobs through its high-value crop production. This company is mainly focusing on vegetable production which goes a long way in reducing the value of imports from neighboring South Africa.
Interestingly, the 41-member company is utilizing a market-led approach in producing vegetables. Simply put, it produces vegetables that are in demand in the market. Sebe Mathonsi, the extension officer responsible for this company said they do not just plant vegetables without getting information from their markets, which are NAMBoard and LnL. “I encourage the farmers to regularly liaise with the markets so that they can always produce what is in demand because that is what informs a better return on investment,” Mathonsi said. This company has a total of 16.4 farmable hectares, and currently, they have grown potatoes, green beans, beetroot, and chilies in 13.9 hectares.
Sihle Fakudze, one of the company shareholders said they are working hard to get a maximum yield of what they produce despite the challenges of the erratic weather. He highlighted that they were greatly affected by Cyclone Eloise which damaged a lot of their vegetables. “With the technical assistance we get from the extension officer, we are confident that we will contribute greatly to the reduction of imports from neighboring South Africa,” Fakudze said.
Equally, another EU-funded company, Kuyasentjetwa Emeni, has produced a bumper maize harvest despite the negative effects of Cyclone Eloise and Fall Army Worms. This company has about 12 shareholders and besides the production of maize, it also places its main focus on vegetable farming. It sells the vegetables to NAMBoard and LnL, meanwhile, the maize and sugar beans are sold to National Maize Corporation (NMC). Currently, vegetables that are being grown are potatoes (2.8 hectares), butternut (1 hectare), sugar beans (10 hectares), beetroot (1 hectare), and green pepper (0.5 hectares).
LUSIP Project Manager, Ray Gama said as ESWADE, they are happy with what the farmers are doing under the high-value chain and horticulture project but there is still room for improvement. Gama highlighted that in as much as the farmers are putting an effort in producing the crops, they still lack the backbone infrastructure and rightful implements to maximize their production to a full commercial scale.
On a positive note, Gama said ESWADE is aggressively working on assisting the farmers in getting the required implements so that they can leapfrog to full commercial production of the crops. “What we intend doing is to bring in other business people who can come and develop a business model that will address the issue of availing the farming implements to the farmers,” Gama said. He went on to say that even on the marketing side, they are working on empowering the farmers to continue using the market-led approach when producing crops to avoid the bottlenecks of producing crops that are out of demand or producing more than the market could consume.