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Agricultural supplier development is key to South Africa’s future – this is why

FTFA has developed a broad base of farmers and cooperatives to bolster food security

Agricultural supplier development has been at the heart of Food & Trees for Africa’s (FTFA) work for more than 30 years. The non-profit, dedicated to food security, environmental sustainability, and greening, has supported thousands of farmers and developed farming businesses around the country. Executive Director, Chris Wild explains why enterprise and supplier development (ESD) in the agricultural sector offers an opportunity for businesses to bolster their empowerment scores, while making the country’s food supply more sustainable.

South Africa’s food supplies sit in the hands of a few

The greater the diversity in the agriculture sector, the more secure South Africa’s food supply. But at the moment many of the country’s smaller farmers are struggling to break into the formal economy, and the responsibility for stocking supermarket shelves and people’s fridges resides with a few companies. 

“Enterprise and supplier development (ESD) is different to social development,” Wild explains. “We are encouraging people from previously disadvantaged groups to join the formal economy.” ESD is part of South Africa’s broad-based black empowerment legislation.

The important part, he says, is in the name: broad-based black economic empowerment. “Broad-based development is the only way to sustainably grow an inclusive economy. That way you build many businesses, employ more people, and create resilience in the food system,” he says. It isn’t just about food security and agriculture, though. Those are only two elements of the green economy, which is an excellent sector to start retrofitting and creating new businesses.

Agricultural ESD creates sustainable businesses

FTFA already has about 8,000 cooperatives and small businesses in its databases, Wild says. With this information, the organisation can guide companies towards businesses where they will be able to make the biggest difference. “Companies can either bring projects that can be put through our assessment methodology or we will help them select a project with a higher chance of success,” he says. 

Outsourcing the management of projects is also important for companies who may not want to do this in-house, or deal with the compliance bureaucracy. “In order to nurture a successful small business, companies have to commit time and resources and more often than not this will lead to inefficiencies and departmental bloat,” Wild says. FTFA offers a one-stop-shop that allows businesses to be as involved or as distanced as they choose.

There is measurable impact –– consistency and quality

“Food security projects are not easy,” warns Wild. This is why companies should outsource their agricultural ESD to professionals with know-how. FTFA has managed to overcome a challenge faced by many ESD projects which is how to gauge impact. “We’ve identified consistency and quality of produce as two foundational metrics to measure impact,” says Wild. “Through those two, rather than income, you can see the quality of the business –– and whether it will be sustainable in the future.”

Tapping into South Africa’s informal economy to boost growth and food security

In our experience, small holder producers cannot grow enough to meet the immediate local demand – especially in peri-urban and urban communities. South Africa has a vast informal sector, and tapping into these networks could be key to growing the economy and ensuring food supply.  “You could also look at certain elements of the informal economy and small businesses within it and bring them into the formal economy.”

Having a well-thought out plan can greatly improve the chances of success in the small business space. “As obvious as this sounds, you have to have an appropriate enterprise development strategy, with long-term benefits to your company and the economy,” Wild says, adding that this is something FTFA develops with its partners.

As part of its internal targets, FTFA aims for its projects and farmers bring in about R7,500 a month. “At that level, they hit the tax threshold and can truly be incorporated into the formal economy.”


Contact info@trees.org.za for more info.

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