The Eden Agri Services packhouse is situated at Blinkwater north of Fort Beaufort and is owned and run by Shaun Brown. The service it provides to a group of emerging growers (including Siseko Maqoma) has been the cornerstone for the successful development of their farms over the past few years.
Shaun is originally from Fort Beaufort. While working for Capespan as an extension officer he developed a good working relationship with a number of the emerging farmers in the area. Productions were increasing in the Blinkwater area and there was a need for additional packing facilities. At the time, the emerging growers that use Eden Agri Services today were transporting their fruit as far as Sundays River Valley for packing.
“Individual growers were keen to get involved with their own co-operative setup. I saw this as a business opportunity that could serve the emerging growers so I sourced second-hand packing equipment and established Eden Packhouse in 2010.”
Six years and many growing pains later, Eden Agri Services has grown and packing volumes have grown from 110 000 cartons in 2010 to 250 000 cartons in 2015. Judging by expected growth from expanding orchards and improved production on these farms, it seems likely that packing volumes could increase to 400 000 cartons per annum in the next five years.
Shaun stressed that the packhouse would not be viable without the support of the emerging growers and added that he sees their relationship as a partnership. He explained that it was his intention for the growers to become business partners in the packhouse in time to come.
Shaun and Siseko agree that they have grown their businesses well together through respect, mutual trust, and support. Siseko explained that he is one of a group of black growers, four men, and one woman, who have been using Eden Agri Services to pack their citrus since 2010.
“We operate as a cluster and the relationship between the BEE farms and Eden Agri Services packhouse is the reason that both parties are successful. The cluster would not be viable without the packhouse and vice versa. We have found a home in the Eden packhouse, and the mechanics of our relationship works.”
Shaun explains further:
“The farmers are dynamic in their thinking and are in touch with the market, and understand different market specifications. Our area is a good production region and as a result, our fruit is in great demand and we are able to supply lucrative international markets. Our soft citrus is sent mostly to the UK and the hard citrus is shipped to the UK, the Middle East, and the Far East.”
In order to assist the growers, Eden Agri Services has extended their administrative staff to provide administrative support to the growers and it is convenient for the growers to have a central, standardised administration service. The businesses are now more stable than before. There are plans for the growers to diversify and, together with technical support from Shaun, they are investigating the possibility of planting avocados (this crop has been successfully produced in the area for the past seven years) as well as pecan nuts and kiwi fruit. This is still in the planning stage.
In the past, Shaun has informally mentored Siseko and CGDC Director Lawrence Mgadle.
“I believe in empowerment and I want to help to make this successful in our area. To do what these farmers have done without financing and without title deeds and still be sustainable, profitable farmers is quite a remarkable success. This is where the trust and input of private export companies have been incredible. Funding these farmers is a risk that they have taken due to the lack of confidence in these farmers from the commercial banks as many of them did not have the title deeds to their land.”
“After some trial and error, we have found a good marketer for our fruit. SAFPRO have shown a great deal of faith in us in the long run. Currently, we market around 90% of our product through SAFPRO and they also provide us with production finance.”
Siseko agreed, adding:
“We have aligned ourselves with SAFPRO and they have done great things for us.”
The group has received assistance from the Department of Rural Development grant funding for orchard development. The Department of Agriculture assisted them as part of a larger group in the region with production inputs, fertilizer, and pesticides to the value of R4 million.
The good working relationship between Eden Agri Services and the group of emerging growers in the Blinkwater district is a great example of how co-operation and trust can work in the best interests of all the parties involved.