In September, Afrikan Farms (Pty) Ltd, situated in Amersfoort, Mpumalanga, was announced the winner of the Agricultural Research Council’s National Commercial Beef Producer of the Year for 2018. In October Afrikan farms received the Pick n Pay Rudd Award for The Producer With The Most Progress Shown Over The Last Decade.

The founder and Chairperson of Afrikan Farms is Vusi Khanyile, the recently retired founder and Executive Chair of Thebe Investment Corporation, who started farming in 2000 when he bought his first farm in Amersfoort, 270kms from Joburg. Today, Afrikan Farms owns 4500ha in Amersfoort, and leases an additional 1500ha. They farm cattle, sheep, maize and soya.

On receiving the awards, Khanyile said: “Ask any economist: the ability to produce from the land is as critical to the success of the economy as a blue-chip company in Sandton. We don’t often think of ourselves as impactful or game changers. Yet, I can assure you, we are.  We make a potent and vital part of the economy.”

Khanyile explains that Afrikan Farms originates with his upbringing in a township in KZN, followed by Soweto and the suburbs of Johannesburg. “Having lived in urban areas all my working life I have always wanted a piece of the countryside, a piece of Africa that I can call my own; my home. As an African I needed to belong to the land, to be able to say this piece of land is part of me and as a family this is where we will anchor our roots.”

Today, Afrikan farms has a herd of 2000 Beefmaster-type beef cattle (including 1200 breeding cows), a feedlot that can manage 400 cattle at a time, 1300 breeding Dormer ewes, a feedlot for their weaner lambs, and they are in a maize and soya bean production partnership called weGrow with neighbouring farmers Dolf and Thys Bam of BB Agri.

Afrikan Farms directly employs 22 people and weGrow employs an additional nine. Afrikan Farms’ general manager and sheep-farming manager is Phakade Khanyile who joined the company in 2013; the cattle-farming manager is Nsika Shabalala who joined in 2011, and the technical department manager is Thinus de Jager who joined in 2016.

The Chief Operating Officer is Siphiwe Kumalo, formerly a chartered accountant and former senior audit manager at PwC, who says: “After having spent five years in audit post my articles, I was fortunate, at the age of 31, to be offered the opportunity to help build a large-scale diversified farming business. The awards are testament to what the team has been able to achieve so far, including our partnership, which increases our economies of scale.”

Dolf Bam, the CEO of weGrow adds: “Over the past five years weGrow has significantly benefitted from the economies of scale and we are currently producing maize and soya beans on 1600 hectares. Last  season we averaged almost nine nine tons of maize and three tons of soybeans, and the partnership has gone from strength to strength. Going forward all our cash crops will be converted to pork meat in a new piggery operation that will come in full production in August 2020.”

“It is all about growing our market network,” Khanyile explains. Afrikan Farms has taken the decision to go beyond the farm gate and supply beef, lamb and in the future, pork, to retailers and food companies. Farmers need to increase their share in the value chain because even though we are the producers on the farm, we are at the bottom of the value chain.”

Kumalo adds: “As a Level One BBBEE entity, with the commodities and resources we have, we see an opportunity to penetrate the local and global markets and be pioneers of transformation within the Agri sector, which has shown a positive contribution to the GDP over the years.

Their strategic vision includes playing their part in the future of farming and food security. “South Africa should not be importing protein when we can produce it here, create jobs and increase South African share of the global export market,” Khanyile explains.

“At a public policy level, the country is saying the right things about growing the agricultural sector and uplifting our people, but we now need more successful projects and businesses. We need skills development programmes for farm workers and farm managers. Black youth who want to farm or be managers of farms, need opportunities for training and to be supported through the process. When they come out of college and university, there must be training sites to develop them on farms. At the same time we need to be acutely aware of the impact on the natural environment and our ecosystem services.”

Afrikan Farms has established a Community Development Trust to upskill farm workers and to establish a training facility, which will help other farmers to understand how funding works and assist them with transformation plans and training of their farm workers.

Regarding the question of farm ownership, Khanyile says: “There is no common answer for everyone. I’m in business and some businesses feel it is important to own the property and land in which their business is situated. Others say it is not their core business to invest in property and therefore they will rather lease the property and land. At Afrikan Farms we do both.

“The land reform initiatives have been with us for a number of years, and some transfer of ownership has occurred, be it to community property associations or giving people the opportunity to farm on farms owned by government. Either way, the focus must be on performance and partnerships, and as commercial farmers we need to find mutually beneficial ways of working with land beneficiaries.

“As we know, farming is a science and a complex business. It takes a great deal of time to master and you need experts to assist you to be productive. Today it is starting to pay off and Afrikan Farms is getting recognition for what we have achieved to date. We are most grateful for these awards, but at the same time we still have so much more to learn and improve on.”