Except from FARMER’S WEEKLY article:
Gert Upton, Schoonbee’s senior manager for marketing and sales, says the business procures as much labour as possible locally. “It’s very important to us to make a social impact in our area and ensure our people can look after their own families. For every one person we employ, they support a further four people. Effectively, we support about 10 000 people in this area.”
Managing director, Ista Upton, agrees that the company’s long-term sustainability is directly linked to the socio-economic conditions of the surrounding communities.
“Identifying vital leverage points in the community where we can play a role in supporting community development and creating sustainable job opportunities are some of our key objectives,” she says. To this end, the company is involved in several projects with the surrounding communities.
PEACE TABLE GRAPES
In 2007, the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development established Rahlagane Table Grapes Agricultural Primary Co-operative (RTG) to create employment in the communities near Schoonbee. Although the initiative received mentorship from government, by 2014 it had become apparent that there was a need for a commercial partner to address challenges such as securing production capital, gaining the expertise to produce world-class table grapes, and accessing markets. A lack of accreditation and infrastructure further threatened the viability of the initiative.
Schoonbee Landgoed became that commercial partner, and in 2015 established Peace Table Grapes, with the main objective being skills transfer.
Peace Table Grapes actively manages 10ha of grapes, and the goal for next year is to gain permits from government and the local community to double current capacity. Schoonbee Landgoed has implemented a number of strategic changes to cultivate a more cohesive production unit. Seven RTG beneficiaries were given training on table grape production, and an Internet connection was installed to streamline communication systems.
Upton admits that transferring skills is time-consuming and a big commitment if done properly.
“You can’t upskill and empower someone through a quick process of showing them a few pictures of what’s expected. Everyone is on a different level, so it requires multiple approaches. It takes time, but that’s the difference between really empowering people and simply ticking a few boxes just to get the BEE scorecard.”
Moreover, when embarking on a mentorship programme, it is important to see it through.
“You must take their hand and walk the long road together. You must have a vested interest and actually expect nothing in return. Doing any kind of charitable work or mentoring must come from a desire to make a change, and not as an obligation.”